Allan Bower competes on the pommel horse at the 2019 Gymnastics World Cup on March 23, 2019 in Birmingham, England.
His 2020 master plan included a run at the U.S. Olympic gymnastics team, the Medical College Admission Test and planning a wedding. Now that the COVID-19 pandemic has swept it all away, Allan Bower is regrouping while taking solace in his sport.
Daily workouts in a Norman, Oklahoma, garage — equipped with a pommel horse, a pair of rings hung from the ceiling, a set of weights and a few mats — provide a small slice of normalcy in a newly uncertain world. Here Bower can do gymnastics, his sport since his mom — 1990 Big 8 all-around champion Jane Clemons — put him in classes when he was 2
“It’s been kind of fun. We’re trying to stay busy,” Bower said of his afternoon workouts. “I’m just glad that the Olympics weren’t cancelled completely next year, so we’ve got another year of training. We have a little more time to clean up, maybe add a few new skills here and there, just try to put ourselves in the best position as a team hopefully to win a medal next year. So that’s kind of my silver lining.”
Even gymnastics as Bower knows it has been flipped on its head. His University of Oklahoma training group, including 2017 U.S. champion Yul Moldauer, Colin Van Wicklen and Genki Suzuki, hasn’t been able to train in the comfort of OU’s state-of-the-art gym for almost two months. Nor can they go to the nearby gym owned by 1984 Olympic gold medalist Bart Conner, where they trained briefly in March after the university closed.
Inside Bower’s new setup, the temperature hovers around 40 degrees, so it can be kind of chilly, and there are no coaches around to give corrections or direct his sessions.
“(I’m) trying to swing pommel horse and do different skills in a garage that’s dimly lit, cold, and we’re just trying to get through halves and stay in shape,” Bower said.
Still, there is an upside: “In the back of my mind, what I’m telling myself is, if I can do it here in the garage, I’m going to have no problem doing it in a competition when everything’s perfect. That’s kind of my mindset about that.”
At the beginning of the season, it looked like 2020 could be Bower’s year. For the past three seasons, the 25-year-old has come as close as you can get to competing at the world championships, and each time he’s been named the team’s traveling replacement athlete, the guy who endures all the tough pre-competition practices just in case he needs to step in, even though he’s unlikely to compete.
It’s a job that isn’t always great.
“I never want to be in this position again,” Bower said at the 2019 world championships. “It’s not fun being the alternate. I love these guys (my teammates) to death, and they deserve it, but it just sucks being in this position.”
But each year it has redoubled his motivation to work even harder. The 2020 Olympic year looked promising. At February’s Winter Cup Challenge, the national team qualifier for the spring season, Bower led the all-around at the halfway mark, going on to finish tied for fifth with U.S. standout and fellow former Sooner Moldauer. Bower also placed second on pommel horse. He was on his way.
Other plans were going ahead as well. At the end of 2019, Bower got engaged to Morgan Baulier, a former Oklahoma cross-country standout and Boston Marathon finisher. The two met while cold-tubbing at OU a few years ago.
“We introduced ourselves, and then we went and got ice cream, and that was it,” Bower said.
They hope to tie the knot sometime next year, though they’re not sure when.
“We had a plan before all this happened, and then it just kind of blew up and now we’re here trying to figure it out. Hopefully the next few months we’ll be able to set a date,” Bower said. “We’re trying to roll with the punches and figure out a date that works for everybody.”
He was also planning to take the MCAT this spring, though the test dates have been postponed and Bower isn’t sure when he’ll finally sit the exam. One positive to the situation is that he now has ample time to study.
“Before, it was kind of chaotic with the schedule,” he said. “We’d wake up, we’d have two practices, we were running back and forth. But now I get up, I can study for a solid three to four hours before we go and work out. Those are kind of my silver linings.”
Whenever the Olympic whirlwind finally does subside, Bower is looking forward to the next chapter in his life, the one that involves being a husband and medical student, and maybe even running a marathon or two. Right now, though, he’s happy to train, even in a garage.