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Former United States Gymnast Janet Cantwell-Papale is Still Invincible: An Interview – Part 1

Anterior Cruciate Ligament, Motivational Speaking, University of Pennsylvania

I had the opportunity to spend an afternoon with Janet Cantwell-Papale recently. She impressed me as someone who has the priorities of family and career properly balanced. She also exhibited a zest for life and a belief in renewable goals that were dually inspiring.

Janet Cantwell’s natural athletic talent and drive led to a birth on the United States National Gymnastics team long before she met and married Vince Papale.

Her married name should sound familiar. Her husband, Vince Papale, achieved fame twice. Once for making the Philadelphia Eagles football team as a 30-year-old rookie in 1976 and secondly for being the subject of the 2006 Hollywood blockbuster movie ‘Invincible’.

Learn more about Vince through my exclusive Yahoo Sports series: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3. You can also visit vincepapale.com to read about the positive efforts that the Papale’s are currently involved in.

Success in today’s economy

Cantwell-Papale believes in refining her skills and staying up-to-date with the latest technology. Her philosophy has allowed her to become a multiple-year member of the Million Dollar Sales Club at the agency she represents.

“I’m an agent for Long and Foster Real Estate. I sell in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. I also manage Vince Papale Promotions as well as our own personal real estate investments,” Cantwell-Papale said.

“Anyone can show you a house. My strength is negotiating a deal. I try to create a win-win for everyone involved.”

She also utilized her business skills when booking her husband’s motivational speaking engagements and negotiating his endorsement agreements.

“You have to constantly encourage people by telling them that they are allowed to fail. There are many people who are afraid to step outside of the box. When people are rigid they can snap and spiral downward. You have to be willing to take a risk.”

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Growing up

Cantwell-Papale grew up in the Northeast section of Philadelphia. She attended St. Celia’s Catholic School and graduated from Northeast High School.

“We had the typical large family. “I’m the oldest of nine. There were six girls, then two boys and finally one girl. We had two sets of bunk beds and our own signing group and I was the worst singer. My Mom had us in the Easter parade and on the Al Albert’s Show.” (The Al Albert’s Show was a popular children’s talent show that was televised in Philadelphia television for many decades.)

Athletics were also important in the Cantwell home.

“My first five younger sisters and I were all nationally ranked gymnasts. I was the only one who made it to the United States National team, even though I was the last one to become involved in gymnastics.

“I felt like I was Cinderella when I went to the gym. It was a magical place for me.”

After rupturing her spleen when she was nine, she was given the last rites as part of her Catholic upbringing. Her mental toughness and physical strength helped her to recover from that incident, as well as from rheumatic fever and a heart murmur.

A world-class gymnast emerges

When fully healthy, Cantwell-Papale began to pursue her gymnastic career. After many years of work she made the National team and toured with them throughout the United States, England, France and Yugoslavia.

She destroyed her knee in 1973, during an International gymnastics competition against the Hungarian Gymnastics team. Her injury was similar to former New York Jet’s Quarterback Joe Namath, in that she tore her Medial Meniscus, Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) and Medial Collateral Ligament.

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As she was working towards her Bachelor of Science degree in Physical Education at Penn State in the mid-1970s, Cantwell-Papale remained involved in athletics. She was a 1 meter and 3 meter diver and also spent one year as the Director of the Nittany Gymnastics school.

After graduating in 1977, the condition of her knee caused her to redirect her athletic interests into coaching. While living in the State College area of Pennsylvania, she accepted an offer to become Head Gymnastics Coach at State College High School.

University of Pennsylvania

Cantwell-Papale went on to become the Head Gymnastics Coach at the University of Pennsylvania, a position she held from 1976 through 1988.

“When I became head coach at the University of Pennsylvania, I taught in South Africa, Malaysia, and Bermuda. So, I did different things with my gymnastics background.”

Because the University of Penn was an Ivy League school, Papale recruited kids who had untapped potential.

“One thing about gymnasts is that they are driven and self-motivated. Some can flounder, because they have been coached their whole life and are not free thinkers. They have always been pleasers and have never developed any outside interests.

When I was a coach, I wanted to have a successful team. I liked working with those types of people, because I helped them to realize their dreams.”

In Part 2 of my exclusive Yahoo interview with Janet Cantwell-Papale we will learn the real story of how she met her husband Vince, how their relationship and family have grown over the years and the current that they have been making.

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Click this link to access Part 2 of ‘An Interview with former United States Gymnast Janet Cantwell-Papale’ : http://tinyurl.com/3pacjd4

I have written professionally since 1990. Follow me on Twitter @ SeanyOB