Gymnast-turned-coder at Florida Poly inspires on and off the mat

Celebrating Women’s History Month

Mar 01, 2024
Sam Bentley

Florida Polytechnic University sophomore Sam Bentley, a computer science major, coaches a young gymnast at Nova Athletics Academy in Lakeland, Florida.

For many, a career in STEM and the sport of gymnastics could not seem further apart. But for Florida Polytechnic University student Sam Bentley, the two worlds intertwine in a way that amplifies all possibilities for both herself and her gymnastics students.

“If you’ve ever run code, you type it out after figuring out the problem," the computer science major said. "And when you press run and it complies and works perfectly, it’s such a great feeling of satisfaction and happiness that I haven’t felt anywhere else other than as a gymnastics coach, when I get to help someone reach their potential.” 

The Tallahassee, Florida, native spent much of her childhood at a local gymnastics facility learning the sport’s fun, challenging techniques alongside her sister. By age 6, her talent earned her a spot in a competitive program. But after years of competition, Bentley realized her passion was really helping others improve their skills. 

“I used to correct my teammates all the time and remind them of the coach’s corrections instead of fixing mine,” she said. “I always thought gymnastics was lots of fun and never took it too seriously, to my coach’s dismay. I’d say I’m a thousand percent better coach than I was gymnast.” 

Bentley, 20, followed her desire to help aspiring young gymnasts and began coaching at 13. Since then, she’s worked at four facilities, coached students from ages 1 to 63, and managed recreational and beginner competitive programs. 

Throughout her years in gymnastics, the sophomore said she’s gained experience and skills that will prove valuable in her future high-tech career.   

“Being a gymnast helped with my socialization and taught me to collaborate as part of a team, and being a coach has taught me to communicate and lead with confidence – both are soft skills Florida Poly emphasizes,” said Bentley, who is pursuing a concentration in software engineering. 

Conquering academic struggles

Outside of her coaching hours at Nova Athletics Academy in Lakeland, Florida, Bentley focuses on being successful in the classroom, despite some challenges. She said it may take her longer than most to finish her assignments, in part because she was diagnosed with dyslexia two years ago. But while words became adversaries, numbers became allies.   

“I didn’t know I was struggling with dyslexia, so I hated spelling and word problems. When it came to arithmetic though, that I got. It’s a pattern. That’s easy for me,” said Bentley, who wants to work as a software engineer to develop virtual reality simulations for the mental health field. 

Her path after graduating from Wakulla High School wasn’t always clear, so she enrolled at Tallahassee Community College and earned an associate degree in general arts. Yet, it was at the gym where she said she found her biggest inspiration to pursue a future in STEM.  

“My old gymnastics coach is now a mechanical engineer and has inspired me so much. My sister is also a mechanical engineer after being a competitive gymnast for many years,” she said. “By having those amazing role models, I really don’t think of myself as having any limitations.” 

With the sky as her limit, Bentley decided to combine her affinity for numbers with her love of technology to go after a career that would be fulfilling and financially rewarding. And she said she found in Florida Poly the perfect place to do so. 

“I looked at STEM colleges and fell in love with Florida Poly’s architecture and the fact that it is an all-STEM school,” she said. “My mom and I toured the campus and saw the small classes, the safe campus, and all the opportunities for students. I applied here and nowhere else.”  

Inspiring to achieve the ‘impossible’ 

Bentley now spends her days between Florida Poly and the Nova Athletics gym, where she said seeing her young students' faces can brighten up even her most difficult days in the classroom. 

“The best part of my job is seeing kids who have told themselves that they can’t do something,” she said. “When they figure it out and finally do it, you get to see their eyes light up as they think to themselves ‘I just did something I thought was impossible. I can do anything now!'"

As a coach, Bentley works to empower her students to overcome challenges. She uses the mental encouragement and lessons on resilience she’s learned from both her gymnastics career and her academic journey, and applies them to advance her personal goals, too.

“I teach the kids that gymnastics is a competition against yourself, and I apply that to my STEM field,” she said. “If I want to get a perfect 10 on bars, that’s what I’ll strive for. If I want to be a computer engineer and learn code, that’s what I’m putting my effort toward. 

“And if other people think I can’t do it, well, watch me.” 


Lydia Guzmán
Director of Communications