Written By: Zach Gershman
It’s not a movie script or some motivational chapter out of a book, even though it might be good enough for both. Alan Gerdov’s time in the gym is a real-life success story with the final scene of his gymnastics career taking place at the 21st Maccabiah.
Gerdov has been a gymnast for almost as far back as he can remember. As a young boy, he watched in amazement as his brother would do backflips in their backyard.
“I would just watch him, with my hands on the glass, saying, ‘what is he doing?’,” said Gerdov. “I just wanted to be like my big brother in any way I could.”
Gerdov’s parents wanted him to be formally trained, so at the age of six, they took him to the Buffalo Grove Gymnastics Center in Illinois.
“That was, looking back, one of the best decisions of my life,” said Gerdov. “Because that gym pumps out champions.”
The road to becoming a champion was not an easy one for Gerdov. During his junior year of high school, he suffered a stress fracture in his back. Even though the pain was there, he continued to take on the mat, practicing his flexibility, trampoline skills, and whatever else his back could withstand.
A Lincolnshire, Illinois native, Gerdov made the 270-mile trip to attend the University of Michigan. He tried out for the Wolverines gymnastics’ team, but it was then he realized his career was likely over.
“I was told my freshman year by the doctors here that my back is of a pre-pubescent, 12-year-old boy who has never played sports,” said Gerdov. “I thought I was strong, and they’re like it’s not your big muscles, it’s all little muscles that aren’t firing are of someone who’s never done any athletics in their life.”
Gerdov was in constant communication with the Wolverines gymnastic staff that recognized Gerdov’s positive attitude and offered him a spot as a student coach.
“I learned how to take care of myself, and to actually be able to provide to a team, and give value even if I’m not competing,” said Gerdov.
Gerdov’s teammates were able to see the impact that he was bringing to the program, especially for NCAA All-America, Adam Wooten.
“Alan is an example of a person who loves the people around him,” said Wooten. “He says all the time if I can push one guy, if I can do anything to make the guy next to me better then I’ll do that thing.”
Wooten’s friendship with Gerdov began on his recruiting trip. For over 45 minutes, the two spoke at a sandwich shop about many different topics, except gymnastics. The conversation has stayed with Wooten to this day.
“I was really impressed because it was real from the jump,” said Wooten. “I could tell that he cared about the stuff that he did. And it makes me emotional to talk about it right now because it was potent.”
“Adam brings out the better in people. The second I met him, I wanted to be a better version of myself,” said Gerdov.
Gerdov and Wooten have both pushed each other in and out of the gym during their time in Ann Arbor. While Gerdov did not participate as a freshman and sophomore thanks to his bad back, he still found a home in the gym. He spent countless time rehabbing, and as a junior at Michigan, was cleared to become a member of the Wolverine’s competitive roster. The love of the sport is one of the reasons why Gerdov wanted to get back to competition. The other was a no-brainer.
“I didn’t want to look back and have any regrets. Your back took you out your freshman year. But what happened after that? Did you have a chance? Could you have actually put yourself and fought and seen if you could have contributed?” said Gerdov. “Looking back now, I’m so happy I gave it another go.”
Gerdov just completed his final season with the Maize and Blue. This past season, he was voted as one of the Wolverines’ three team captains. The team won back-to-back Big Ten Champions and finished third in the NCAA. His collegiate career at Michigan is over, but there is one last stop on Gerdov’s journey: The 21st Maccabiah.
As a member of the Open division, Gerdov will join Team USA to compete in Israel. Who better to join him than one of his best friends, Adam Wooten?
“I knew about Maccabi because the gym community is so tight,” said Gerdov. “I saw that email and I called Adam and was like, this is what we’re doing, and this is gonna be my last ever time doing gymnastics. I want to do it with you.”
Wooten will be entering his senior year at Michigan, taking over as the 2023 team captain, but the opportunity to compete alongside Gerdov one final time is special to him.
“I think the fact that it’s one last ride for me and Alan is, is a beautiful way to sort of close that chapter,” said Wooten. “It’d be one thing to do it alone, but the fact that I get to share this with someone I’m already so close to is just icing on the cake.”
For the final time in his athletic career, at the Maccabiah, Gerdov is looking forward to completing his gymnastics career.
“At the Maccabi Games is just a nice little way to put an exclamation point at the end of my career,” said Gerdov.
Gerdov believes his Maccabi experience will stretch beyond the result in the gym. He is a Ukrainian Jew, and his parents came to the United States labeled what he referred to as “religious refugees.” Gerdov’s parents immigrated to America from the former Soviet Union when they were in their 20s. His family still has ties to Ukraine, which has made the ongoing war difficult for the Gerdov household.
“It’s hard to see your heroes hurting. They’re strong, and the people of Ukraine are so, so strong, their bravery is chilling,” said Gerdov. “You read the stories, and it makes you want to be a better person. It definitely puts your heart into it. They’re devastated.”
The uproar of antisemitism in the former Soviet Union was part of the reason Gerdov’s family relinquished its citizenship. Growing up, he learned all about the challenges they faced, but is thankful because it taught him strength.
“The stories and adversity that they faced, that they just took to the chin, and just triumphed over every time without fail. It’s so beautiful,” said Gerdov. “It provides a lot of perspectives.”
Along with his Jewish and Ukrainian pride, Gerdov will bring that perspective with him to Israel.
“That’s what makes me so excited about this Maccabi trip. I get to learn more about the strength of the Jewish people from a perspective outside of the very, very real and intimate relationship that I have with my parents.”
Gerdov attributes the strength he gained from his family as the reason for his success. Regardless of his success and failures, Gerdov will look to stick the final landing in his gymnastics career at the 21st Maccabiah in July.