Though seniors Maddy Stover and Tiffani Lewis and junior Kari Lee were once inexperienced freshmen coming into a dominant University of Utah gymnastics program, they paid close attention to their teammates and learned quickly. Today, the knowledge they gained over the years allows them to lead the team effectively as part of a leadership council.
“I think once in a while freshmen come in and it’s just a blur and goes so fast, and they don’t see themselves really having much of a role, [but] for whatever reason, those girls seemed interested in watching what [was] before them and carrying on tradition and even getting better at how [to do] that,” said co-head coach Megan Marsden. “If you start doing that young, the sky is the limit on what you can provide a team by the time it’s your fourth time around.”
Being on the leadership council carries several responsibilities. The three keep the team a family unit. If there are conflicts, the leadership council steps in to help. They also decide what the team wears for travel days and what leotards they wear for competitions.
Stover, Lewis and Lee are comfortable and confident around each other. They know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and they strive to make the program the best it can be by working together as a whole to accomplish their goals.
“At the end of the day, we all come from different backgrounds, different gymnastics training, different personalities, really,” Stover said. “Putting 12 girls in one room and making team chemistry [is] really hard sometimes, but the more that we treat each other as best friends and teammates, the better our team chemistry.”
Stover, who came into the program competing in four events, learned leadership is ever changing. She can no longer compete in the four events because of the pain her rheumatoid arthritis causes. Instead of leading solely in athletic events, she has learned to lead in other ways.
“[A leader is] someone who is good under pressure, can make critical decisions, that knows when to speak up.” Stover said. “But I also think it’s really important for a leader to know when to follow and when to observe.”
Stover jokingly calls herself the mother of the team. She remembers after her diagnosis of arthritis she had to take a step back and figure out how she would contribute to the program. In doing so, she learned her voice is powerful.
“Maddy is not only leading the team, but [mentoring] the rest of the council and then she’s [mentoring] new young leaders,” Marsden said. “She’s giving out direction to a freshman or sophomore, knowing that her time is short.”
Lee’s experience with an injury taught her how to refocus and enjoy the little things about gymnastics. Since Lee has one more year with the team, she knows her example is being watched by many.
“We have to set a base for how the program of Utah gymnastics is going to keep on continuing,” Lee said. “There are tweaks here and there, but we try to keep a good example and have the younger people [collaborate] with us and just get everyone’s input.”
Lee has learned the most important parts about leadership are communication and listening. By listening to her teammates and working together as one unit, they’ve created a bond inside the gym.
Lewis understands the way people speak to each other is different for everyone. One person on the team might need a bit of pushing or yelling — another might need a kind word. She has been taught that leadership is about being able to treat her teammates as individuals. She has also learned everyone can be a leader in their own way — they don’t necessarily need to be given a special title — and to her that is the best part.
“The coolest part is that I feel like I don’t need to lead anybody,” Lewis said. “I feel like it’s yes, we’re a part of the leadership council, but like I said earlier, everyone here is a leader in their own way, even the freshmen.”