DENVER — Lynnzee Brown is one of the most decorated gymnasts in University of Denver history, earning back-to-back trips to the NCAA National Championships (winning it in 2019), and earning Big 12 Gymnast of the Year in 2021 for the first time in school history. While she is a senior, COVID-19 provided most athletes with the opportunity to use a fifth year of eligibility.
9NEWS sports reporter Arielle Orsuto sat down with Brown to discuss her entire career at DU and to gauge her interest in coming back to earn even more accolades.
Arielle Orsuto: This was a year for the books. You got two perfect 10s [in regionals] and you got another 10 earlier this year. What can you say about your performance this season?
Lynnzee Brown: I put in so much work in the short amount of time I got to train this year. I was super honored it paid off. Even in the competitions it was a learning experience. Getting out there and competing exactly how I've been training was really rewarding.
AO: I want to go back to the beginning. When you were looking for colleges, why Denver?
LB: When I visited, they just made me feel important and I think every person on this planet deserves to feel important. That was something I lacked when I was in club [in Kansas City] being with some of the greatest of all times. They showed me and told me multiple times that I was good and that I deserved to be here and that I was going to be a great addition to the team.
AO: Did you think that you weren't good, that you weren't important, and that you weren't at the level that you clearly are?
LB: Yes, definitely. There were moments when I did not feel worthy of anything in life, especially the accolades or even a scholarship. Having people there, it just shows how the flip of a mindset can change anything.
AO: Who was the most instrumental in your career here?
LB: Oh, that's a very tough question. I think all of the black and brown girls that came before me, mainly the ones that I was close to, Nina [McGee] and Nikole [Addison] showed me how to be confident in who I was. Being at DU didn't mean that I had to change and that I had to choose between being a gymnast and being a person of color. I think our leadership coach, she's just been absolutely amazing and guiding me through everything that happened with my mom and my injury. Just my coaches and my teammates have also helped me be who I can be.
AO: You talked about the balance of being a person of color and a gymnast here at DU. Why was that so difficult and can you walk me through your journey?
LB: There's just not a ton of representation of black women doing amazing things so far, but in recent years we have a new head coach for women's basketball [Doshia Woods], and I'm growing that relationship and things like that have been put in my path and things like that are leading me to a great future. In the beginning, missing those people that I could connect with and could motivate me to stay. If I had chosen to leave, I would have only been adding to the problem, and those are things that Nina and Nikole helped me with. So, I'm honored that I got to stay here and now I'm working with this head coach to help all of the black and brown people who come through here in the future.
AO: Not only would you have been adding to the problem, but you're now becoming an inspiration for other people. You're becoming a household name in gymnastics, and you're also a black woman. How much does that mean to you?
LB: It means a lot. For my self-confidence, it changed me as a person. But for these young girls that are inspired to push that one more day or that one more year. Just see what the next step holds. Even when I was younger, looking up to Gabby [Douglas] and Simone [Biles] and seeing that they can be great, well so can I! That kind of mindset to keep going and that you can achieve the same level of amazingness.
AO: 2019 brought you some of the highest of highs and the lowest of lows in your life. You won an individual NCAA title for the first time ever at this school -- but you also lost your mother.
LB: Yeah, I feel like instantly when I found out, nothing in this world could snap me out of it. I was actually in the team locker room and had most of the girls surrounding me. I can't even put it into words, I just had this sinking feeling. Shortly after going home, I had my head coach and a teammate with me, and that just shows how amazing the people around me are. But my family, we just bonded together. We did it together. I was just so happy for myself and my aunt, who came to 2019 Nationals with my mom, that we got to have one last weekend to spend with her. My aunt always says that God knew what he was doing to give us one last weekend together.
AO: I know this is hard for you, and I appreciate you sharing this with me. She was there and she got to see you win, but does it ever taint the memory when you think about that title win?
LB: I wouldn't say it was tainted, but it comes with a huge heavy heart to remember. That weekend, the trophy that we got, I set it next to something that I took from our childhood home. It's an apple, she loved apples, so I keep those two things next to each other. It's the dichotomy that you can't have happiness without sadness, and that moment for me is the greatest example of that.
AO: The next year wasn't much easier for you. You tore your Achilles tendon when you were probably on your way to another spectacular year. How did you get through that?
LB: Everyone always finds it super interesting or surprising, but I think the injury came at the perfect time, just with everything with my mom. I didn't want to come back to school, I didn't have any motivation, I just wanted to sit by myself all day every day. My injury is what snapped me out of it. I wasted a whole year just feeling sorry for myself. Through the injury, I found out it's okay to have bad days and it's okay to cry, but if you don't pick yourself up, you're always going to be in that hole. My injury was that for me. Coming back, I found a new joy for gymnastics and life and really cherished the people around me and tried to be a better friend and person for them and build stronger connections, because you never know when you're going to lose somebody.
AO: After losing the most important person in your life and suffering a terrible injury, you came back and had the best season you ever had. Is that a very proud moment for you?
LB: Yeah, I'm proud. Also, through everything, I realized it's just gymnastics. Prior to everything, I would get really upset if I didn't do as well as I wanted to and it would take me weeks to come to terms with it, but I just get to do what I love. So I'm just proud of myself that I could have that mindset all season, especially with how my season ended, I'm just happy that I could do the sport that my mom sacrificed so much for me to even show up one day, let alone all throughout college.
AO: I think the million dollar question is what's next? You have that extra year of eligibility, are you going to use it?
LB: I might go back home and help my family with everything that they're still going through and the aftermath my mom's passing. There's so many opportunities coming up that I'm not sure what I'll do with them. I'm just super excited and I'm happy closing this chapter, if it comes to it. I feel like I had a great career, and especially this last season, I don't know how I can top it!
AO: Outside of being an athlete, who is Lynnzee Brown?
LB: That's a very, very good question. I think I'm a kind, compassionate person, who is trying to do her best in the world. I think moving forward, I would like to find what successful means to me and strive to accomplish that.