“It was the first sport I ever played, it was the first organized sport I’d tried. It’s the only sport I’ve ever done. And it clicked.”
Quazi Syque Caesar is a gymnast from Florida, who has represented the University of Michigan Wolverines and the Bangladesh national gymnastics team in the 2012 Summer Olympics. Winner of Bangladesh’s first international gold at the Central South Asian Artistic Gymnastic Championships in December 2011, Caesar is now retired and currently the Assistant Coach of the Stanford University Men’s Gymnastics team. His introduction to gymnastics was serendipitous, encountering a flyer for gymnastics while he and his father were walking home. His father asked young Caesar if he wanted to try it. His training began in 1997 in Florida, where he was the “only South Asian in the facility” as far as he can remember. He remembers the gym had “people from all kinds of background, and everyone was very welcoming.” Thus began a journey that would see him perform at the college level for the University of Michigan and at the international level for Bangladesh, a country he holds dual-citizenship for alongside the United States.
Caesar understands the financial sacrifices his parents had to make to adhere to his training. One of three children, Caesar tells us about the expenses that come for parents when putting their kids through gymnastics. The cost of uniforms, competition fees, and coaches’ fees all add up.
“My parents were struggling a bit sometimes,” he says, with no shortage of gratitude. “We were driving and travelling all over the place. There was definitely a time and financial burden in the family. But they were really supportive the entire time.”
Athleticism is in his blood. Caesar’s father had been a soccer player for the Bangladeshi national team and encouraged his son to push himself to the next level. His mother was excited as well. They were both pleased by his determination and commitment to the sport.
Balancing academics with training was much easier in high school for Caesar than in college. The latter proved to be a struggle, especially in his first two years.
“In school I had figured out the system,” he tells us “I got straight A’s because I had figured out how to get straight A’s.”
As for college, the gymnast wasn’t sure how to study or learn material in the same way he had cracked the system in high school. He freaked out when he saw a D in his report card in his freshman year, an incident he refers to as an “eye-opening experience.” Incidentally, he was injured his sophomore year, and used that time to regain focus on school. By junior year, he got the hang of doing a better job balancing his academics with his gymnastics training.
The process for Caesar to represent Bangladesh in the Olympics started in late 2010. His college coach suggested that if Caesar was interested in taking his gymnastics career to the next level that he consider competing for his home country, a thought that had not occurred to him before, although his father had been thinking of it for a while.
“In the year 2011, we started that whole process, thinking if I’m gonna do it, I’m gonna do it all the way,” he says. “My dad had contact within Bangladesh Olympic Association and the general sports federation and then we just started conversation and a year and a half-long process.”
By the end of 2011, he was able to compete for Bangladesh.
His community at the US were as equally as supportive as his immediate family to his status as an Olympian. He loves the feeling of being recognized, and being asked for his autograph. Everyone around him, and especially his family, was highly supportive and proud.
Naturally, there were cons alongside pros to his rigorous schedule, especially when it came to family and culture. Fasting during the Islamic month of Ramadan was challenging, since he had to go through intense training four hours a day. He remembers trying to fast during training and literally losing consciousness.
Although in general the South Asian family lifestyle suited his training since his family had late dinner. But he also missed out on special family time since he was on a strict routine.
“My schedule in high school was waking up at 5.45 in the morning, drive to school, which was 25 miles away,” he remembers. “So I’d leave around 6.15, get there right before 7, had school from 7-2. Then I’d drive another 60 or so miles or so to the gym. I’d get there around 3.40, and had practice 4-9. Then another long journey back. I’d get back home around 10 o’clock. I’d eat dinner, do my homework. And refresh all over again.”
This wasn’t uncommon between the higher level high school gymnasts. But for him, this meant missing out on quality time with his family, as well as missing out on spending weekends with extended family in Florida.
While Caesar absolutely loved the thrill of competition, he had to retire because of the brutal training.
“To compete at the highest level you can’t do anything except train,” he says. “It was a full-time job. That’s just at the gym. In order to get at that level you’re gonna get injured, you have to do physical therapy, you have to do rehabilitation work. It was pretty brutal, if you wanted to be good. I’m someone who didn’t just want to participate.”
He also mentions that there isn’t much financial gain when it comes to male gymnasts in the US, unlike somewhere like Japan where the men overshadow the women. Moreover, he didn’t have a real job or work experience until he was 24 years old, because he had done nothing for train for almost twelve years of his life.
He misses competing immensely, from the the adrenaline rush, to the feeling of nailing his routine. He also misses the brotherhood that comes with being part of a collegiate team.
“When you’re growing up in high school in the comp level you’re by yourself,” he says, referring to competitions as “boring.” “But in the collegiate world, it’s super loud and exciting and being obnoxious and in general teammates behind you just roaring and cheering. I miss being a part of it and knowing I’m competing against the best in the world. That was motivating for me. And to be able to prove myself.”
While he was finishing off school in communications and sports management, Caesar was trying to figure out future employment. His only work experience had been as an administrative assistant at the University of Michigan.
“I had nothing, all I had was gymnastics, I was a gymnastics nerd through and through,” he recalls. “There was a point I’d seen all the college men’s gymnastics video on YouTube. I was all in, was always a student of the sport, a fan of the sport. And during the time I was training, I’d help guide the coach. Something just clicked, that it was something that I was good at.”
His friends encouraged him to look into coaching, something he had never realized was a real job as it hadn’t felt like one knowing his club gymnastics coaches growing up. During his last year at Michigan as an administrative assistant, he began reaching out to collegiate coaches across the country. The men’s gymnastics coach at UC Berkeley at the time loved his work, but did not have a position available. But, he talked to the head coach at Stanford, and Caesar got accepted as the Assistant Coach on the Stanford University men’s gymnastics tea, without any coaching experience.
Caesar sees a bright future for South Asians in gymnastics, as the typical body type is suited for the sport.
“You want to be small but you want to be wide. you want to be strong but you want to be quick,” he says. “The people of Bangladesh are built for it. “
However a lot of South Asians currently living in the subcontinent don’t have the privilege to play sports in the proper facilities with trained coaches, and are more asked to focus on academics. His parents’ immigration to the United States definitely paved the path for him to participate in sports professionally, and he had the options available to him.
“You need to have a proper facility, and an educated coach,” he says. “Those two things are super hard to come by. It’s difficult to be a good coach, and have a big or great facility. It’s hard to have the combination of both. It really comes down to having a good coach. Somewhere like Bangladesh it’s gonna be a long process.”
According to Caesar, coaches have to stick with a gymnast from when they are six to the age of eighteen or nineteen years.
Caesar himself is in his fourth year of coaching now at Stanford, as passionate and excited about the sport as ever, glad to have an opportunity to share his knowledge and wisdom. While it is busy, he also loves that it is fun. It is clear that not only does he love coaching, but he loves every single aspect of gymnastics.
Written by Padya Paramita