A leader unlike the rest

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She’s notorious for wearing a pair of sweatpants. She has a blond bun bouncing up and down and following her wherever she goes. She’s from a different country. Oh, and she’s the only non-LDS member on the BYU women’s gymnastics team.

Senior Jennifer Lezeu may be seen on campus as a typical BYU student on her way to class, but she has many different qualities that make her stand out.

Being an international student from Ontario, Canada, may not sound foreign, but Lezeu gets even more global than that. She has Eastern European roots; her mother is Hungarian and her father is Romanian.

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Jennifer Lezeu does floor exercises at an open meet in the Smith Fieldhouse last December.

When asked how she was raised, Lezeu will say she grew up European, meaning she was taught to work for what she earned. But like many others, she was raised with love by her parents, went to school and participated in extra-curricular activities. And every Sunday, they all went to church. Catholic Church, that is.

Even though she wasn’t a member of The CHurch of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Brad and Dawn Cattermole, the BYU gymnastics coaches, recruited this international elite gymnast on the Canadian National Team for her exceptional talent and grace in the beautiful sport of gymnastics.

When reminiscing about her recruiting trip, she said the environment was good-hearted and it was different than any of the other schools she was interested in.

“I just felt it was right and that God wanted me to come here because it was his plan for me,” Lezeu said.

Her father, Adrian Lezeu, said he and his wife were happy with her decision to come to BYU simply because she was happy.

“She liked the team, the coaches and the town, and we have supported her the whole way,” Lezeu said.

Brad Cattermole knew Lezeu was not a prototypical BYU student when they recruited her.

“Dawn and I believed we found a sharp kid, like Jen, and knew she would do well here, regardless of her faith,” Cattermole said.

While signing her letter of intent four years ago, she knew the school was predominately LDS and understood the Honor Code, but it never seemed like a “red-flag” to her.

“As an athlete, smoking, drinking and partying was not important to me, so BYU was the place I wanted to be while pursuing my gymnastics and my education,” Lezeu said.

Being a non-member, international student-athlete certainly did not come easy for Lezeu. While religion classes were a blur, the mere feeling of being disconnected and unrelated makes life a little hard.

“I felt comfortable in my freshman year because there were five or six of us non-members together. But once they either graduated or got baptized into the church, I felt like I didn’t belong here and felt out of place because I was the only non-member on the team,” Lezeu said.

Judgment and pressure can be common concerns for any minority in any situation, but Lezeu said she never felt that because she gave no judgment or pressure on her end.

“I see you as a person and not the religion affiliation you carry. Once people find out I’m not LDS, they usually don’t judge me; knock on wood,” Lezeu said as she humorously knocks on the balance beam.

Lezeu comes from a warming, loving and religious family who believes in treating people well. Cattermole said her family is very nice and genuine. However, Lezeu said she has enjoyed the LDS culture and plans to take in some principles of the LDS faith into her family’s life and the life of her future family.

“I really want my family to apply family Sunday dinners together, like many members do here,” Lezeu said. “We never really do family things together but with my experience at BYU, I can possibly apply that at home.”

As Lezeu is en route to starting her senior year on the gymnastics team, she is also one of the team captains. Being a team captain can be demanding, especially adding all of the team meetings and captain-tasks on top of schoolwork, gymnastics and a social life. A fellow senior and team captain, Natalie Eyre Pickard, from Provo, said she is impressed with Lezeu’s team captain qualities.

“While she was home in Canada over the summer, I would get emails from her every week with ideas for us to be a better team,” Pickard said. “She is just always thinking about the team and we can always depend on her.”

So what is next for this 5-foot-2 little ball of spunk?

Many gymnasts typically end their career once their university time clock runs out, but Lezeu wants to keep on flipping. Le Reve and Cirque de Soleil are circus shows in Las Vegas that thrive on former gymnasts and acrobats. Cirque de Soleil is actually based back in Lezeu’s home country.

Her family knows she is involved with gymnastics and is happy to support her as she pursues this next chapter in her life.

“She just loves doing gymnastics and she’ll be great at any of those places,” Cattermole said. “They have been watching her throughout her BYU career and are interested in her.”

 

 

 

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