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Photo courtesy of Brittany Evans/Denver Athletics
Sports

How Gymnast Lynnzee Brown Went From a Season-Ending Injury to Scoring 3 Perfect Routines

In February 2020, the University of Denver athlete tore her achilles. About a year later, she’s turning in flawless performances and preparing for the NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championships.

Lynnzee Brown knows a thing or two about being perfect. During her gymnastics career at the University of Denver, she’s landed four perfect routines.

Three of them have occurred in the last few weeks, starting on March 20 at the Big 12 Gymnastics Championship. Her perfect score on the uneven bars came during the event’s last rotation and sealed DU’s narrow victory over University of Oklahoma, the top-ranked team in the country. It was the first time the school had ever won the Big 12 title.

“I wasn’t necessarily concerned with the score, I just knew that was enough to win it,” Brown says, describing the feeling of landing the routine. “I turned to my coaches and my teammates and gave them a big hug, because I knew it was a team effort. It wasn’t just me.”

The 22-year-old from Kansas City followed up that performance with two more perfect 10.0 scores on the uneven bars and the floor at the NCAA Regional Final two weeks later. Those accomplishments secured her ticket to the NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championships, April 16–17, in Fort Worth, Texas, where she’ll compete in the individual all-around competition and defend her shared 2019 national title on floor.

But even more impressive than that run of success, is the fact that she is doing it barely a year after suffering a season-ending achilles tear in February 2020. It takes many athletes at least 12 months to return to competition, let alone top form, after such an injury.

Ahead of the National Championships, we asked Brown to break down the year-long process it took to recover from that debilitating tear, achieve perfection, and reach the pinnacle of her sport.

One Year Out

In February 2020, one year after her she achieved her first-ever perfect 10.0 for a floor routine, Brown tore her achilles during the takeoff for the double pike in the same exercise. Her lofty goal after the season-ending accident? Be back competing by the next season—and hopefully be perfect, again.

When you literally can’t walk, though, Brown admits that the road to excellence starts off a bit slow.

“I couldn’t do anything for a while,” Brown says. “But I am a huge visual learner. So the whole summer I watched myself, I watched all the gymnastics meets that you could possibly watch, watched all of the skills that I was doing, and watched how other people did them.”

Nine Months Out 

By late summer, when the team was finally back in a gym together, all she could do was conditioning and rehab.

Eventually, she was able to work on at least one event. “I swung bars like all day, every day,” she says. “I’m just super grateful because bars was one of my weaker events [before], I would say. But working hard on it has paid off.” We agree, considering she has had multiple perfect scores on the uneven bars since then.

Six Months Out

“Coming back [from the injury], I forgot how scary gymnastics is. I guess it wasn’t my normal anymore,” Brown says. “I had never really remembered being scared of doing these skills before.”

She says that in the month or two heading into the regular season, which kicked off in January 2021, the focus had to shift to relearning to trust her body—and trust the repairs that had been made to it—especially during tumbling.

“I was kind of worried about tweaking [my achilles], which actually happened a few times during the season,” Brown says, noting that an important part of preparing yourself for the big stage is knowing when to rest. “Thankfully, [my coaches] let me sit out and recover.”

Photo courtesy of Brittany Evans/Denver Athletics

Two Months Out (Mid-Season) 

Once she felt comfortable again, it was time to kick it into first gear.

“I spent the early half of the season just trying to rebuild my competitive confidence, and I think I finally got there, like a week or two before conference,” Brown says. “I’m always trying to put myself into a competitive mindset in the gym, but I think I went further than that. I made each turn count and [shared] with others to hold myself accountable.”

In order to emulate the pressure of a conference championship, Brown says she would often start little games of sorts to create that same competitive edge. “On bars, for example, I would go up to one of the freshmen to hold them accountable. Like, ‘I’m going to focus on hitting my handstands and sticking my dismount.’ And then they’re like, ‘OK,’ and then I’d go and do it. And then I’d say, ‘Now it’s your turn.”

One Month Out (Big 12 Championships)

The conference championships is where everything finally came together for Brown.

“I knew that I had to do my best [bar] routine. And in practice, I just try to put myself in a competition setting. So right before [bars], I was just thinking, this is exactly like practice,” she says.

She also runs through “keywords” in her head during every meet. “I say [to myself], confidence, aggressive, I’m a 10.0 wrecker. I say I’m excited for this opportunity,” Brown says.

That last part came as a suggestion from her sports psychologist. “They told us when you’re nervous, it’s the exact same chemicals that make you feel excited,” Brown says. “So if I change my mind to flip it. It just kind of calms me down. If I say I’m excited for this opportunity, rather than I’m nervous or scared.”

One Week Out

In the final days before the last competition of her senior season, Brown says she has to find ways to create competitive energy for herself—and hold herself accountable—without her teammates in the gym pushing her. And at a meet where national titles will likely come down to a matter of quarter-tenths of points, so much as a unpointed toe can mean the difference between the champion and runner-up. So she’s spending this week sweating the small stuff—like, the really small stuff.

“I have practice, and today’s a floor day,” Brown says, noting that she’ll be working on her feet. “At one of the meets this year, a judge took off on my double layout, because my feet were apart [in the air]. And otherwise, it would have been a 10.0. So I’m working on squeezing my legs together—even though most of the judges will be on the side, so they wouldn’t see it. I just kind of [have to] make sure it looks good from every angle.”

Brown is also sure to keep her gymnastics world and her outside world separate, purposefully penciling in time to decompress from three-hour-long practices and pursue other pastimes like local mentorship opportunities, or walking around campus to snap some photos for a class.

But one ritual that the 10.0 wrecker is sure to make time for is the one she credits the secret sauce for her success.”My teammates think I’m kind of crazy…They laugh at me because I literally tell them you have to spend at least five minutes a day looking at yourself in the mirror and telling yourself how great you are,” Brown says. “But you have to think that you’re the absolute best, and you have to support yourself, because no one’s gonna support you like you support you.”

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