Big Ten Medal of Honor Q&A with Justin Toman (2002)

May 22, 2014

Big Ten Medal of Honor 100th Anniversary
Michigan's Big Ten Medal of Honor Recipients

In recognition of the 100th anniversary of the Big Ten Medal of Honor, the Michigan Athletic Department is profiling some distinguished student-athlete alumni who received this prestigious academic and athletic honor.

Justin Toman was a five-year member of the men's gymnastics team, winning two Big Ten team championships, two NCAA individual national titles and the 1999 NCAA team national championship. Toman earned five All-America citations, including back-to-back NCAA parallel bar national titles in 1999 and 2000. The only four-time team captain in Michigan men's gymnastics history, Toman received the prestigious Nissen-Emery Award in 2002, given to the top senior male gymnast in the country, and he was named Michigan's 1999 Male Athlete of the Year after helping lead the team to the national title.

Toman, who was a member of the U.S. National Team (1998-2002) and competed in the 2000 U.S. Olympic Trials, graduated with a bachelor of science degree in movement science (2001) and earned a master's degree in sport management (2003). A four-time Academic All-Big Ten selection (1999-2002), he was named to the 2001-02 CoSIDA Academic All-America Men's At-Large team.

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Justin Toman

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Receiving the Big Ten Medal of Honor was one of the biggest achievements that I've ever received as an athlete or as a person. It was a huge honor to represent Michigan to the Big Ten Conference in this way.
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Justin Toman

Justin Toman
Q
What was your favorite memory from your time at Michigan?
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A close second was winning the national championship in 1999. It was Kurt Golder's second full year as a head coach, and I was a sophomore. We had a great freshman class, and we were a very young team that gelled in a way that was different than any other team that I was a part of at Michigan. I had great teammates throughout my time at Michigan, but there was something special about that year and that group of teammates. We were together both in and out of the gym. It was that perfect storm of great performances and great relationships among teammates that became a source of strength for us. Saying all of that, my favorite memory since I've been gone from Michigan is the day-to-day grind of being a student-athlete. It sounds so cliché, but I really enjoyed that daily grind; going to the gym with the team, your brothers, and going through the challenges of being a student. Going through all of those experiences with them, the practices, time with teammates, classes; living that student-athlete lifestyle was second to none.

 
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What was the best lesson that you learned at Michigan?
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It was not only to win with humility but to accept defeat with humility as well. Never get too excited because you won a meet or you won the NCAA championship. Never get too happy with yourself. On the flip side, never get too upset because one loss or one bad practice or a string of bad practices isn't the end of the world. It was being able to accept victory and defeat with humility and acknowledging there is a lesson in both outcomes.

 
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What was the best lesson that you learned academically at Michigan?

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A junior on the team my freshman year, Randy D'Amura, told me the biggest thing in college is prioritization. You need to understand what to prioritize, what to focus on and what to do and what can slide for a day or week and get done later. There are so many new things coming at you in college, and the academic track at Michigan is second to none. In order to be a student-athlete at Michigan, you need to deliver in the classroom at a certain level. There are demands academically that you need to fulfill and setting your priorities is important to accomplishing all that comes with being a student-athlete. Being able to prioritize and juggle the student and athlete parts of your life was the biggest lesson that I learned at Michigan.


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How did your Michigan experience prepare you for life after college?

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It had a huge impact. The team dynamic has been huge in my career with PepsiCo. Learning to work within a team is important at our company. Gymnastics is a performance-based sport where each individual contributes to the team outcome; it's not like we are relying on another guy for your individual performance, but each contributes to the whole. But, there is a very important team element to it, and that has helped me in my career. I need to be a good teammate to my colleagues and be a leader at the same time. That is probably the biggest thing that I've carried over into my professional life in sports marketing. Nothing you do, especially at a large matrix organization, is in a silo. It's dependent on a large degree to the people, those above you, below you, next to you. That is one of those things that helped me as I/we work to get things done at Pepsi.

 
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What is the most common thought that goes through your mind when you look back at your Michigan career?

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It's funny. When I was at the NCAA Men's Gymnastics Championships last month at Crisler Center, connecting with some former teammates and current members of the team, two things stood out when I talked with all of these young guys. You don't know how lucky you are; enjoy these moments because they don't last forever. The time goes so fast. They are extremely formative years in your life, how they shape you and how they impact decisions you make later in life and what type of person that you become. Maybe it's the typical old guy thing to say but enjoy it. The other one was `wow' has the level of performance in gymnastics improved dramatically since I competed. It has risen so much since I competed. What was going through my mind was that I'm so happy to be done and not competing now. The skill level that these men are competing at is unbelievable compared to the things that we were doing 15 years ago when I was on the team. We had hard routines then, national team members who were vying for the Olympic Team in 2000 and 2004, but now when you look back the level of gymnastics has risen so significantly that it's crazy to watch.

 
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What did it mean to receive the Big Ten Medal of Honor?

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Receiving the Big Ten Medal of Honor was one of the biggest achievements that I've ever received as an athlete or as a person. It was a huge honor to represent Michigan to the Big Ten Conference in this way. To wear the block M on my chest and to accept that award was an unbelievable experience for myself, the gymnastics team and the teammates that I represented. I take great pride in winning that Big Ten Medal of Honor. I remember the event itself and to be surrounded by so many great student-athletes, many of which could have received this honor, was very special especially because it was an event celebrating you and your peers for academic achievement.

 
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Does the Big Ten Medal of Honor have any greater significance today?

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I don't think that I fully understood the significance of the award until after the fact. I was greatly appreciative of the award at the time and the honor that came with winning the award, but I learned more about it through the years. I keep the Medal of Honor in a display box on my desk at the office. I've had a lot of people come by and comment on it or ask what it is. I'm very proud to tell them that its one of the awards that I was fortunate enough to receive while competing at the University of Michigan, and that it balances both athletic and academic performance. I have become more and more proud of that honor because it does incorporate both elements. It speaks to the balance -- prioritization -- that I was so wisely told about as a freshman and to the hard work and effort that you need to succeed as a student-athlete. I have become more and more proud of that over time. It's more holistic and speaks more about the type of person that you are versus your ability on the field or in the arena.

• Previous Q&A: Tiffany Ofili