BYU gymnastics is already up three points on Sacramento State. A hush falls over the crowd as Shannon Evans, who is the last gymnast to compete in the floor routine, takes a deep breath and steps onto the mat.
She’s practiced the routine thousands of times but still gets nervous. Her name is announced and she salutes the judges before she gets ready to present. The music starts, her head starts to bob and her teammates start cheering her on.
The routine is nearly flawless. She receives an almost perfect score: 9.900. She finishes the meet with an all-around score of 39.475, winning the all-around. She celebrates the victory with her teammates and family.
Her biggest fan and supporter, however, is over 500 miles away.
Life as a college athlete is busy. Between juggling school, practice and travel, there isn’t much time left for other things, especially when the season rolls around.
For BYU athletes Ryan and Shannon Evans, that means two schedules to balance — Ryan’s dive schedule and Shannon’s gymnastics schedule.
The two have been married since their sophomore year at BYU.
“It’s a blast. It’s so much fun,” Ryan said, grinning from ear to ear.
But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. The couple is always running from one thing to the next.
Ryan has weight training from 7 to 9 a.m. Then, he has an hour break before he hits the pool for two hours. He has class until around 3 or 4 p.m. and then tries to catch the end of Shannon’s practice.
Shannon has weight training from 7 to 8 a.m, class from 8 a.m. to noon, then practice from noon to 4 p.m. The two try to take one class together so they can see each other for at least one more hour per day.
Even though Ryan and Shannon have to juggle both schedules, a similar lifestyle has provided unique opportunities to support each other. Whether it is decompressing after a challenging practice, figuring out how to manage classes or seeking advice about how to land a new routine, they always know they have someone at home to help figure out a solution.
“It’s nice to come home to someone that also has the same experiences with coaches and stuff like that and be like, ‘Well, you should try this. Have you thought about asking this?’” Shannon said.
The two relate not just because they are both Division I athletes but also because their sports are somewhat similar. Many gymnasts switch to diving because the maneuvers are alike — Shannon has to twist off of the beam and Ryan does twists off of the diving board. Shannon has to land on her feet while Ryan has to enter the pool head first, but the motions are nearly identical. This allows them to draw on each other’s experience to improve in their respective sports.
“Ryan will coach me through flipping faster and understanding the technique better,” Shannon said. “He’s made me a better gymnast because he understands the sport so well. I think that’s one of my favorite parts. Not only does he understand my frustrations, but he can help with them because he knows how it works and the technique behind it.”
Shannon won her first all-around meet of the 2020 season against Sacramento State on Feb. 7 in the Smith Fieldhouse. Five hundred miles away at the Air Force Academy in Colorado, Ryan called Shannon to hear about her meet. He finds out she crushed it. He’s elated but not surprised, and he smiles because he helped her come up with part of her routine. The part where she knocks on the ground, opens it up and pulls out the remote to control the music; he helped her add that part.
It wasn’t the first time Ryan helped Shannon add something to her routine.
Back in 2019, Shannon wanted to model one of her routines after her favorite video game, Super Mario Bros. Ryan was part of the whole process. He helped her cut up the music so that the timing was perfect. It was his idea to give her star power part way through the routine. He was there to help Shannon with the choreography, step by step.
Ryan, on the other hand, has been practicing most of the same dives that he performs now since high school. There isn’t as much variation in his sport. Still, Shannon manages to help him tweak things.
“Shannon will give me ideas on how I can improve,” Ryan said. “She coaches me through my form or when I get frustrated working on a certain skill.”
The payout for each of them comes at the meets when they both can showcase what they have been practicing.
“Watching Shannon perform is the coolest thing I’ve ever been able to do in my life,” Ryan said. “My heart gets in a tight grip. It’s just the craziest thing, but I just want the best for her whenever she’s performing. So much so that I almost start to have a panic attack.”
Ryan will anxiously pick at his fingers, hoping Shannon can pull off her various routines. And when she does stick the landings, Ryan is in the crowd screaming and jumping almost as much as Shannon and her teammates on the floor.
When Ryan competes, Shannon loves seeing all the work he has put in come to fruition. There are so many intricacies when it comes to diving. Fixing a dive usually requires very small adjustments that would appear very minor to a new spectator.
“I enjoy watching him thrive under pressure,” Shannon said. “Even when it wasn’t his best dive, he stays calm and picks himself up for the next dive and does well. It says a lot about his character.”
Since they both have such busy schedules, they haven’t been able to be at the same place on the days that most couples never spend apart. For some, that distance creates a divide, but for the Ryan and Shannon, it makes their bond grow stronger. Although they have been married for almost three years, they have only been together for one New Year’s, one Valentine’s Day or one of Ryan’s birthdays.
Ryan and Shannon’s college careers both ended in March. Ryan dove in the team’s final meet, the Zone E Championships, while Shannon’s season was cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic. Neither one of them will ever be graded from zero to ten again and there won’t be that perfect twist.
Although the end may have come sooner than expected, they both knew the sun would eventually set on their college careers. Now, it’s time for both of them to move on from their sports, something they have dedicated their whole lives to. Even though they will miss perfecting their craft, they will always have each other to lean on as they both go through the transition into normal life.
“Ryan and I are going to find out how that transition feels,” Shannon said. “We’re both going to find out how hard that will be at the same time. And that’s something I’m grateful for.”