BYU gymnasts paused to reminisce on their childhoods surrounded by over 5,000 elementary school children at the annual Kids Meet on Jan. 25. Three gymnasts shared stories about their humble beginnings in the sport and how they earned their spots on BYU’s No. 16 team.
BYU’s first All-American in 14 years, junior Shannon Evans initially joined gymnastics to follow her sister’s footsteps.
“When I first started, it was really lighthearted,” Evans said. “It’s always been really fun for me. It’s never been brutal or degrading.”
Evans laughed as she reminisced on times that some would deem embarrassing, but she sees as learning moments in her young career.
“I would watch videos of when I was little on bars and I would fall on my face,” Evans said. “I would jump right back up and throw my hands in the air with the biggest smile on my face like I just had gotten a 10 and run over to my dad and be like, ‘Did you see that?’”
Reminiscing on those family home videos reminded Evans not to take herself too seriously.
“Whenever I have a hard day, I’ll watch those videos of me biffing it on bars and then think to myself, ‘Wow, I’ve come so far,’” Evans said. “I mean, I could be falling on my face jumping onto the bar, but now I just fall on my face doing really cool tricks.”
Evans’ mindset has helped her progress toward a career-high score of 9.950 on the uneven bars, in addition to receiving the honor of 2018 Second Team All-American.
While Evans naturally improved at the uneven bars, she had to find a creative angle to be successful on floor.
“When I was little, the skills never made me nervous, but memorizing those stinking compulsory floor routines got me,” Evans said. “I remember just being in my routine and I would do a dance move and then look over at my coach and say, ‘What’s next?’ I forgot it all the time.”
However, Evans used another one of her talents to tackle this weakness: musical theater. With years spent in the theater, Evans worked with assistant coach Natalie Broekman to create a routine that carried a storyline, making it easier for Evans to remember.
“I like acting it out and doing it like a play,” Evans said. “Dance and ballet don’t fit my style, but when it comes to acting and putting a story together, it changes the whole aspect of it and I have fun doing it.”
This season, her routine focuses on the Nintendo classic Super Mario Brothers.
“It’s so nerdy, so don’t judge me,” Evans said. “When I get out there and do Mario, it takes my mind off the nerves and lets me just have fun and perform.”
Her unique approach to creating floor routines makes Evans stand out. In fact, her routine made news in outlets such as Sports Illustrated.
Sophomore Abbey Miner, another BYU Gymnastics team member, always had her heart set on college gymnastics as a child. Starting at the age of 3, Miner quickly progressed as she began training for level 10 as a 10-year-old.
“I had been asked to train elite by my coaches, but I knew that I didn’t want to do that with the sport,” Miner said. “I wanted to compete in college gymnastics and get a scholarship.”
Like Evans, Miner advanced through levels quickly, but worked to overcome a weakness of hers: bars.
“I hated it my whole life until two years ago,” Miner said. “It was never my best event and I’ve almost died on it like four times.”
However, head coach Guard Young specializes in bars, helping Miner develop a love for the event.
“Guard told me, ‘This is how you know you’re a strong gymnast, when your worst event becomes one of your best,’” Miner said. “I thought, ‘Yeah right, I hate bars.’ But once you start to love an event, you can’t help but get better at it.”
After hours of practicing during preseason, Miner went from hating bars to performing against No. 3 University of Utah in the season opener, earning BYU a score of 9.659.
Unlike Evans and Miner, sophomore Abby Boden started in soccer and ballet first. Ultimately, she switched to gymnastics.
“In my ballet class, they would want us to stand there and move our feet, but I would be bouncing all over and being obnoxious,” Boden said about choosing gymnastics.
Her high energy and lightheartedness never faded through the intense years of training and BYU head coach Guard Young noticed this energy when evaluating Boden.
“I was bouncing around and Guard goes up to my coach and was like, ‘Is it just all rainbows and unicorns for this girl?’” Boden said. “It was a pretty big meet, but it seemed like I didn’t have a care in the world.”
When reflecting on her memories with the sport, Boden knows her love for gymnastics runs deep. A meet against Southern Utah last season reaffirmed her passion.
“We hit solid bars and I think it was Haley (Pitou) who nailed her dismount right in front of me and I remember running under the bar and I thought, ‘I love this. This is why I do this.’”
A common theme among the BYU gymnasts is that hard work pays off.
“I didn’t love it for the good moments,” Evans said. “I didn’t love it just for making nationals or becoming All-American. I loved the days leading up to that and the hard work that was put into that.”