‘I was meant to be here’

Junior Amari Celestine reflects on how gymnastics and sorority involvement have helped her grow.

“I'm not going to be an athlete forever,” said MU junior Amari Celestine. “What I do right now, the education, is going to last a lifetime.”

June 26, 2023
Contact: Deidra Ashley,
Photo by Sam O’Keefe

Driven by involvement inside and outside the classroom, accomplished University of Missouri athlete Amari Celestine is determined to inspire the next generation of gymnasts and empower young women of color to become leaders.

Celestine’s love of gymnastics was apparent from the age of 2. “I was fearless,” she said. “Early on, I was doing flips around the house and hanging upside down from the kitchen island.”

Her mother recognized her talent and enrolled Celestine in competitive gymnastics as soon as she was eligible. At the same time, Celestine was expressing her energy and creativity by participating in step shows with her mother, a member of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc. “My mom really opened the doors for me and got me in love with sorority life,” she said.

The two passions merged at Mizzou, where Celestine has emerged as a star gymnast and an influential leader in the fraternity/sorority community. “It just felt like I was meant to be here,” she said.

National recognition

Mizzou Gymnastics head coach Shannon Welker recruited Celestine while she was still in high school in Wildomar, California, and encouraged her to visit campus. “When I came to Mizzou, I wanted to feel like I belonged here — like I could make change here, like I could be of some service on the gymnastics team,” Celestine said.

She got her chance. As a freshman, Celestine scored a career-high 9.95 on the vault in the 2022 NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championships, finishing as the national runner-up in vault and helping the Tigers finish with a program-high fifth place nationwide. She was named First Team NCAA All-American in vault in 2022. In the 2023 season, Celestine achieved her second All-SEC Honor.

Celestine attributes her success to her team’s collaborative work ethic. “Everybody is working toward a common goal,” she said. “Everybody's in sync with each other, and we have a common respect for one another so we can work toward whatever goal we want.”

Sorority legacy

While establishing a reputation as a leading gymnast, Celestine followed in her mother’s footsteps by joining Mizzou’s chapter of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc. There, she works to support unhoused people, hosts youth events and talks to local high schoolers about college.

“Service and my Mizzou community give me the opportunity to improve something else,” she said. “Helping those in need is what I feel will benefit the future population after me.”

Celestine is also the current vice president of the MU chapter of the National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC), a coalition of historically African American fraternities and sororities. In her role, she oversees and plans the organization’s events.

“The NPHC community has supported me and helped me grow into a leadership role that I did not originally think I was cut out for,” Celestine said. “They believed I could be vice president and reached out to me.”

Celestine’s combined involvement with NPHC and Mizzou Gymnastics has inspired her to to foster more inclusive environments and empower future generations. This summer, she will be coaching a Brown Girls Do Gymnastics camp at North Carolina A&T in Greensboro, North Carolina, and the Maine Challenge Gymnastic Camp in August, Maine.

“It's rewarding that I can be a role model to younger kids, especially younger girls of color,” she said.

Making new connections

Celestine’s determination to create opportunities for others led her to study sports management in MU’s College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources. “I like helping people achieve what they want to achieve,” she said. “This program will allow me to do that.”

Through her academic program, Celestine has been able to shadow men’s and women’s basketball teams to better understand the business and event planning sides of athletics, including what people and resources are needed to make sure sporting events run smoothly.

She said learning about sports management has given her an even greater appreciation for athletics and how much work goes into making events happen. I wouldn't have known any of that if I hadn't had those shadowing opportunities,” she said.

Celestine said her combined involvement in her academic program, gymnastics and sorority life has given her the confidence to form relationships and realize opportunities that she would have missed otherwise. She encouraged other students to remain open to new experiences.

“Mizzou offers so many opportunities to help you get involved. Don't be afraid to venture out,” she said. “Don't be afraid to make new connections.”

Story written by Jesse Berlin

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