Write on: Stuck the landing

It was date night, and we were both on our iPhones.

But it wasn’t because we were bored or not living in the moment.

We were in the PMAC watching our first LSU gymnastics match together, and we were rapid-fire Googling, trying to soak up all the sports knowledge we could.

By the end of the night, we’d have a solid understanding of how college gymnastics scoring works, as well as the ins and outs of each type of routine. We’d even read up on floor music selections.

I’m proud to say we can now use terms like “stuck the landing” in casual conversation. (Although I apologize in advance if I get any other gymnastics lingo wrong in this column. I’ll own up to still being a newbie!)

Our friends invited us on a double date to a Friday night match at the PMAC in January.

I’d been to an LSU match before, but it had been a while, and I’d certainly never been to a match with my fiance. He and I weren’t sure what to expect.

But I knew LSU was good—ranked-No. 2-in-the-nation good, at the time.

And it only took a few weeks of living in Baton Rouge for me to hear about what a legend Coach D-D Breaux is.

Plus, as a couple, we’re all about trying new things, and as non-natives, we want to experience as much Louisiana culture as we can.

Gymnastics turned out to be the perfect unexpected date night activity for us. Honestly, it was a treat.

From the first beam routine, we were hooked. Our mouths dropped open at the seemingly impossible ways the gymnasts could move and twist their bodies.

We were on the edge of our seats watching the athletes swing themselves over the bars.

And we loved the creative stamp each girl put on her floor routine.

I can’t even decide which type of routine was our favorite.

But even more than the students’ awe-inspiring physical feats, I loved watching how everyone else in the room reacted to them.

First: the crowd. I was fascinated by how the gasps and cheers seemed just as loud for the home team as the opponent.

Our friend explained that this atmosphere is what she, too, loves so much about watching gymnastics. It’s not a mean sport.

Of course, everyone in the stands wants their own team to win. But no one wants the opponent to slip up. It’s a bipartisan sport, if I’ve ever seen one.

Then, I couldn’t get enough of the way the girls supported each other. I loved listening to their collective shrieks of joy when a teammate nailed a particularly tricky move. And they’d always embrace and high-five each other after the routine, no matter the outcome.

Sometimes, I found myself focusing even more on the judges than the gymnasts.

Most of them had pretty flat poker faces. But there was an older judge whose eyes just absolutely twinkled beneath her big Iris Apfel-round glasses.

She watched the stronger routines with an ear-to-ear grin. But if a student ever stumbled, her face would immediately fall. She wore her heart on her sleeve, and I wished I could go down to the judges table and hug her.

Most of all, though, I loved watching Coach Breaux greet the gymnasts after each routine.

She’d get so animated, waving her arms and gushing. From my seat up in the stands, she was as small as a stick person, but I still could see her eyes light up.

I’d try to imagine what she was saying to the girls, what wise insight or encouragement she was sharing. I wished I could hear her words—I felt like I could learn so much about leadership from her. We all could.

My fiance and I are not from Baton Rouge and didn’t grow up watching LSU sports. We don’t have Tiger blood in our DNA.

But the feeling we got in the PMAC that night was pure magic. There was love from every corner of the building.

And it’s a feeling I’ll always want to root for.

This article was originally posted in the February 2020 issue of 225 Magazine.