Big 12 Campus Correspondent
Faced with one of the toughest decisions she ever had to make, Hope Sloanhoffer was at a crossroads.
The standout gymnast was a senior at Cornwall Central High and had to pick where she would spend her next four years.
“I had it down to Central Michigan and West Virginia,” Sloanhoffer said. “It was time for my visit to WVU. They took me over to the medical campus, and I met the teachers and learned about the exercise physiology program.
“After meeting the girls and learning about the program, I definitely knew this was where I wanted to be.”
The now-senior member of the Mountaineer gymnastics team has experienced four years of gratification, on and off the mat in Morgantown.
Sloanhoffer has always valued friendship and family, which were the convincing factors in her final decision to sport the Old Gold and Blue.
“It definitely is a family atmosphere in our gym. Our coaches are looking out for our best interest inside and outside the gym. Our gymnastics isn’t what defines us to them,” Sloanhoffer explained. “They’re more interested in if we’re going to be okay after we leave here. Are we going to get the job that we want? It’s not just that we put up a good score for them and leave, and that’s just one of the things about West Virginia that stole my heart.”
Under the guidance of third-year coach Jason Butts, Sloanhoffer has garnered more on-the-mat accolades than one could begin to list.
She has been named a NACGCIW Scholastic All-American each season as a Mountaineer, been the team’s most valuable gymnast twice and was the 2012 EAGL Gymnast of the Year, just to name a few.
The Cornwall, N.Y., native has accomplished all of this while maintaining a 3.66 grade point average.
“Hope comes from a very strong family. Her parents are very hands-on and have been involved in her life. I told her she would have an instant family when she came here,” Butts said. “She leads by example and is one of the hardest workers in the gym.”
Butts admits that he looks for a certain character trait when recruiting high school athletes – one that Hope embodies.
“When I’m recruiting a kid, I go to a private gym when she’s with younger kids, I look at how she interacts with the children. That’s a great indicator of character,” Butts explained. “If the little kids are cheering for them and caring for this athlete, you’ve probably got a great person on your hands.”
Perhaps the biggest impact Sloanhoffer has had on another person hasn’t been to a teammate, family member or coach. In fact, it is on the life of a child Sloanhoffer met for the first time eight months ago.
Nine-year old Krista Mae Peraldo became an official member of the WVU gymnastics team this past November.
Peraldo, who was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia in March of 2013, partnered with the Mountaineers through Team IMPACT, a non-profit organization that has set out to improve the quality of life for children facing life-threatening illnesses by partnering them with college athletic teams.
It didn’t take the young girl long to feel the effect of the personality of Sloanhoffer - one that has influenced so many.
“Krista runs to her first every time she comes to our gym,” Butts said. “Hope has been to the hospital numerous times to see her. I see that also when we hold camps. The kids always love Hope. They gravitate to her.”
“I was a part of the group of student-athletes who were first presented with the opportunity to work with the Team IMPACT program. We all agreed how cool it would be to be a part of it,” Sloanhoffer said. “We’ve been blessed to be where we are and do something we love. This kid, however, may never get to experience that. What’s an hour out of our day to bring a smile to a less-fortunate child? If we can bring a smile to her face just by going and hanging out for a bit, we want to do that.”
Last summer, Sloanhoffer and her teammates would make constant trips to WVU Children’s Hospital to visit Peraldo. Seeing the young girl grow and fight this disease has been one of Sloanhoffer’s most memorable experiences as a Mountaineer.
And the effect the gymnast has had on the youngest Mountaineer has been paramount.
“Krista was really shy at first, and now she comes running in the gym and wants to talk to us all,” Sloanhoffer explained. “To see her be so confident, despite what she’s going through, a situation none of us could imagine, is remarkable.”
Most recently, Sloanhoffer’s desire to help others has been directed at freshman Nicolette Swoboda.
Swoboda, who also hails from New York and competes as an all-arounder, rooms with Sloanhoffer on the road and dissects her every move – hoping to learn from someone with so much to give.
“I don’t think she realizes how much of an impact she has on this team. Hope is a leader and we all look up to her. She is just an amazing teammate and friend,” Swoboda explained. “She always helps us. The other day at practice, I wasn’t having the best day, and she stopped me and talked to me for a little bit. She’s always there for us.”
Through it all – helping others, excelling in the classroom and being one of the best all-around gymnasts in the country – Sloanhoffer’s own family has been with her every step of the way.
“My parents (Cordell Hoffer and Nancy Sloan) are so supportive. That is so much time and commitment from them, and I’m so thankful,” she said. “They’ve only missed one meet in college, and it was because they couldn’t travel due to the weather. Just to know that they’re going to be there - to have that consistency and know they’re behind me - is really important to me.”
As for what’s next for life after WVU gymnastics, don’t expect anything less than inspiring from someone who has already accomplished so much.
“I’m currently deciding between going to medical school and going to physical therapy. I haven’t quite decided, so I’m going to take next year off and work things out,” Sloanhoffer said. “I’ve loved the exercise physiology program. It’s been amazing and has definitely prepared me for whatever direction I decide to take.”