On a visit to the University of Pennsylvania last Thanksgiving, El Camino gymnast Mona Nedjar was given some advice she hasn't forgotten.
"They said don't compare yourself to everyone else, because everyone is just as smart, is just as active, is just as successful and just as pretty as you are," Nedjar said. "You have to do things for yourself."
Nedjar, 18, chose not to watch other routines, didn't worry about scores--not even her own--and took one event at a time. The strategy earned her the optional all-around title at the San Diego Section individual championships Wednesday at Santana.
Nedjar's score of 37.05 was a personal best and bettered the 36.65 by Torrey Pines' Julie Kawasaki, who also was second last year.
"I've never really won anything big like this," Nedjar said. "That's why this meet was so important."
Nedjar's first season of high school gymnastics almost didn't happen. After a two-month bout of illness that started with strep throat and ended with chicken pox, Nedjar quit her club team, West Coast Gymnastics, in December.
"I had lost so much weight and muscle there was no way I would have been ready for my club season," she said.
She joined the dance club and considered running track as a way to stay in shape, but she went out for gymnastics when El Camino when Anne Allen, last year's coach and Nedjar's dance club adviser, decided to stay on instead of resigning when a replacement could not be found.
"I really liked her," she said. "Also, the gymnastics team hadn't won league in 10 years."
Torrey Pines finished one-two in the compulsory all-around, with Lauren Gist (36.75) finishing ahead of Lellie Hose (35.90).
Torrey Pines won the team title with 214.40 points, well ahead of Santana (205.95).
Nedjar took first on floor exercise and balance beam and third on vault and uneven bars. Kawasaki won bars, but it was the fourth on the beam, usually her strongest event, that hurt her chances to win all-around the most. She fell twice.
"I usually don't fall," said Kawasaki, a member of Mira Mesa Gymnastics Center and bound for UC Davis. "I got first on beam at (U.S. Gymnastics Federation) regionals. It's disappointing because this was my last chance to win. It's been a goal of mine for four years, but it (had been) untouchable with Tasha."
Torrey Pines' Tasha Taylor, two-time defending all-around champion, didn't compete. She is preparing for the Level 9 USGF nationals in Seattle this weekend.
The floor exercise was the closest event, with Nedjar's routine winning by .5 over Fallbrook's Paige Peterman.