SOUTHINGTON — No matter what college brings for Southington gymnast Natalie Reeves, it is quite certain what it won’t include.
There aren’t many of those at 21.3 degrees North latitude and 157.8 degrees West longitude. That’s Honolulu, and that’s where Reeves will be come September.
In one of the more unique college commitments to come across the Record-Journal sports desk, Reeves is heading to Hawaii Pacific University to study marine biology and compete in acrobatics and tumbling.
Some 5,000 miles away from home, Reeves will pursue two passions she’s cultivated while growing up: environmental science and gymnastics.
“I started gymnastics at a young age and developed my own opinions and became passionate about things like climate change,” Reeves said Monday night. “Continuing with something that I love in both aspects, getting to continue to do gymnastics while getting to go to school for marine biology — incredible.
“Majoring in marine biology, I figured what better place to go than island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean?”
Chuckled Southington gymnastics coach Cassidy Chamberland, “I told her I’d be there to visit next year.”
Reeves has been a cornerstone in Southington gymnastics’ most recent rise to state prominence. A four-year competitor, she was all-around champ at the Central Connecticut Conference meet as a sophomore in 2019 and a junior captain on last season’s Class L and State Open championship team. She’ll be a captain again this year as a senior.
Reeves is one of three girls from the 2020 Southington team going on to compete collegiately in acrobatics and tumbling, a still-emerging sport that combines competitive cheerleading and gymnastics. It features tosses, acrobatic lifts and pyramids and, from gymnastics, the skills seen primarily in floor exercise.
Kat Drechsler, last year’s lone Southington senior, signed on with Quinnipiac acrobatics and tumbling. Kelly Perrotti, who will graduate this year with Reeves, is going to compete in the sport at Limestone College in South Carolina. Reeves is joining coach Haley Garelick’s program in Honolulu.
That means the only upperclassman from Southington’s 2020 State Open championship team going on to compete in college gymnastics is senior Lizy Beaulieu, who has signed with Division I Fairfield.
An upside of acrobatics and tumbling? At a time when the academic load ratchets up. it keeps gymnasts active while sparing them the grind of college gymnastics.
“The sport has become more popular over the past few years and — not that my girls couldn’t do it — but it is very difficult to go any division with college gymnastics because it’s so demanding of your time and body,” Chamberland said. “Acro-tumbling has become something that is more team-oriented and less strict.”
Reeves checked out three of the 29 NCAA schools that offer acrobatics and tumbling: the University of Oregon, Gannon University and Hawaii Pacific. Oregon, situated on the Willamette River, and Gannon, located in Erie, Pa., a couple blocks from Lake Erie, also offered marine biology.
“The range of schools for acrobatics and tumbling is so small, as is the range of schools for marine biology,” Reeves noted. “Hawaii just worked out perfect.”
Reeves has been to Hawaii before. She and her dad Brian, mom Katie and younger brother William went there on vacation in the summer of 2019. That, however, was before Reeves got steeped in her college search.
Reeves has already done some traveling for the sake of academic ambition. Fourth grade through eighth, she attended Environmental Sciences Magnet School in Hartford.
Now a senior at Southington High, Reeves has a course load heavy on engineering and sciences. She participates in Project Lead the Way and is taking AP Environmental Science, which features a dual enrollment with UConn.
Reeves stays up to speed on issues affecting the environment. She hears the figurative tick of the Climate Clock in New York City.
“It’s counting down the years until irreversible climate damage and we’re at about seven years now; by 2050 the coral reefs will be gone,” Reeves said. “I’d like to say I’m pretty involved in keeping up with a lot of the climate issues. I feel strongly about them.”
Reeves is not yet sure where her career path will specifically lie, other than it will be science based. Research? Reversing climate change? Regenerating coral reefs?
“I don’t have an answer; we’ll see what happens,” she said. “We’ll see where I am in 10 years. I’m excited to go to Hawaii for the next four and see where it goes from there.”