Focus, dedication and hard work are things all student-athletes aspire to practice in their daily lives, but University of Minnesota gymnast Kendra Elm has taken those disciplines to a whole new level.

Not only does the Golden Gophers’ top all-around competitor excel academically as a bio-medical engineering major, but she recently was awarded her black belt in karate, which denotes a high level of competence and expertise in the martial art.

Elm, a native of Plymouth, Minn., began studying karate when a friend who had their black belt suggested she try the sport during the summer after her senior year of high school.

“I really loved that it was something different from gymnastics,” Elm said. “Gymnastics is one of those sports that you have to practice year round. It was kind of nice to have another outlet … something else to do other than school and gymnastics. I really loved the people there, too.”

When Elm arrived on Minnesota’s campus as a walk-on, head coach Meg Stephenson encouraged the freshman gymnast to continue pursuing her new interest.

“We thought that was really cool. We didn’t see any problem with her wanted to continue,” Stephenson said. “We thought it was good because of the focus and the intense dedication it takes to do that sport. We were actually completely fine with her doing both.”

Elm, who passed her black belt exam in December, never had any intentions of continuing with karate for so long.

“I was kind of in disbelief that I made it that far,” Elm said. “It was really cool. When you get your black belt there is a big examination with about 100 other people. It’s a big deal.”

“If you think about what’s on Kendra’s plate – or should we say platter – with school and full-time athletics and competing and traveling,” Stephenson said. “She has this full, full platter, and on top of it she tested for her black belt in karate and achieved it. It’s amazing.”

Stephenson was impressed with Elm’s accomplishment, but not necessarily surprised because of her repeated examples of this kind of dedication to the Minnesota coaching staff.

“She came to us as a walk-on and was our freshman of the year,” Stephenson said. “She improved so much and was such a hard worker and very, very coachable. After making a significant impact her freshman year, we ended up putting her on a scholarship. She really re-earned that scholarship every year. Kendra has done everything to earn the scholarship in every way.”

Elm has won five all-around titles this season, and ranks 18th nationally with a 39.105 regional qualifying score. She believes the varied techniques in both sports have made her become better in both realms.

“Karate has definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone,” Elm said. “It’s very different. You’re yelling when you move and doing things you obviously don’t do in gymnastics. That probably took me two years to get used to because it was so strange for me.

“It’s helped me push out of my comfort zone in gymnastics as well. Now, sometimes I’ll incorporate dance moves or skills that I wasn’t necessarily comfortable the first time around. As far as gymnastics’ impact on karate, the flexibility and the agility are really helpful. I can kick higher and jump higher.”

Elm is as serious about her academics as she is her athletics, and is hoping to be admitted to medical school in 2012.

“I’ve wanted to be a doctor since I was young,” Elm said. “I love the medical field. It is so interesting how the body works.”

But, for now with just two regular season meets remaining in her senior year, Elm is concentrating mostly on gymnastics, while trying to squeeze in at least one karate workout in per week.

The Gophers travel to Iowa State on March 4, before returning home for Senior Day.