A Serendipitous Landing

Photos by Lawrence Boye.

Corrie Lothrop brings a fresh face—and a long list of accomplishments—to the U of U gymnastics team.

Newly arrived University of Utah gymnast Corrie Lothrop smiles when she tells you that she started gymnastics at the ripe old age of 2, in her parents’ gym, Yellow Jackets Gymnastics in Middleton, Mass.

It was the family business, and she showed interest, talent, and acumen even then. For the first two or three years, her mother, Joan, was by her side in the gym. But by the time Corrie turned 5 or so, she was working independently and thriving.

“I grew up in the gym,” Lothrop says, meaning it quite literally. Her parents encouraged her fledgling efforts, though they never pushed. But she took to it naturally and never thought twice about it. Serendipity? Consider this: What makes Corrie’s story even more interesting is the fact that she is living the family business, even though she wasn’t born into the family. Far from it—Lothrop was born in Wuhan, China, but was adopted at age 2 by Don and Joan Lothrop. (Older sister Christie was adopted from Korea.) The Lothrops just happened to own that gym back in the United States.

Yet as a child gymnast, Corrie was far ahead of the typical curve—competing at a level 10 when she was just 11 years old, for example—and always pushing for more. The Lothrops knew their precocious daughter was heading to elite status, which convinced them they needed to find a program that could keep up with her.

Joan eventually moved with Corrie to Gaithersburg, Md., to work with Kelli Hill at Hill’s Gymnastics Training Center, where several other Olympic gymnasts trained. Dad stayed behind in Middleton. (Christie left at the same time for college in New York.) The family’s sacrifices were all in the name of helping an elite athlete bloom.

“My family has been behind me every step of the way,” Lothrop says.

Diminutive in size—as many gymnasts are—Corrie is nevertheless large in personality. Though she describes herself as a “modest person,” her credentials and successes speak volumes. Although just entering college, she has already made her mark on gymnastics, at the very least from a terminology standpoint. “The Lothrop” is the sport’s term for a switch-leg side aerial, a maneuver Corrie has perfected.

Lothrop has already become a brand.

“I’ve always loved [gymnastics],” she says, as she embarks upon her freshman year of competition at the U. “I think it was just fun from the very beginning. If I didn’t enjoy it, I wouldn’t have kept doing it. I started at an early age, and it led to everything else.” “Everything else” includes her spot in this year’s Red Rocks lineup, where Lothrop is among a big handful of new names on the roster for 2010—including seven freshmen (out of 13 athletes total).

“There are a lot of interesting girls coming in,” says Megan Marsden BS’84, the team’s co-head coach (a role she formally assumed along with her husband, longtime Utah coach Greg Marsden, before the 2010 season). “Half the team is new, which is a challenge, but they seem to bring competitive spirit and a good work ethic to the table.”

The freshmen besides Lothrop include Nansy Damianova, a 2008 Canadian Olympian from Montreal, Quebec; Lia Del Priore, from Center Valley, Penn.; Alyssa Gale of Simi Valley, Calif.; Victoria Shanley from Colorado Springs, Colo.; and two local gymnasts of prominence: Hailee Hansen of Woods Cross High School in Bountiful and Mary Beth Lofgren of Skyline High in Salt Lake City, who join sophomore Fumina Kobayashi of Brighton High School in Salt Lake City as current Red Rocks with local ties.

“We’re really excited about that,” Marsden says of the local recruits, who she admits will be under the spotlight given the pressure to live up to Utah’s track record (941-170-6 and 29 straight NCAA Championship appearances in Greg Marsden’s 36 years at the program’s helm) and rabid following (Utah’s season average of 14,213 fans per meet in the Huntsman Center last year shattered the NCAA attendance record).

From left to right (faces visible): Assistant Coach Tom Farden, Mary Beth Lofgren, Corrie Lothrop, Kyndal Robarts, Director of Operations Cameron Linford, and Fumina Kobayashi.

That record and those types of crowds can both entice and intimidate Utah’s own gymnasts, but the success of the program over the years is part of the legacy the Marsdens have built. “They’re going to feel some pressure, sure,” Megan says of the young athletes. “But that’s part of it. That’s what our program is about.”

Which brings us back to Lothrop. Already a celebrated gymnast with credentials around the world (just Google her), Lothrop was a 2008 U.S. Olympic alternate and a member of the U.S. National Team from 2006-2008. One of the top recruits in the nation, Lothrop took eighth at the 2008 USA Championships, won the all-around at the 2008 International Challenge in Belgium, was an all-around runner-up in the USA-Germany Friendly Exchange on the 2009 European Tour, and was on the winning team for the 2009 USA-France Friendly Exchange meet.

A host of schools, including Georgia, Florida, LSU, Stanford, Arizona, and Alabama (which was Lothrop’s top alternate to Utah), were in hot pursuit of the widely acclaimed gymnast on the recruiting trail, but she was most impressed by the Marsdens’ track record and commitment—as well as the program’s unique popularity. A recruiting trip visit to Salt Lake City included a ticket to a Utah home meet at the Huntsman Center and a look at those 14,000-plus fans. Others might have been scared off. Lothrop was hooked. Big personality looking for a big stage on which to perform? Visit Utah. Check.

“I could just see myself here,” she says. “Seeing [Utah compete at home] was great. I loved that. I love competing in front of big crowds. I’m excited.”

So are, evidently, the Red Rocks, who appointed Lothrop, along with junior Stephanie McAllister and seniors Jacquelyn Johnson and Kyndal Robarts, to their new Leadership Council. Members act as liaisons between the student-athletes and the coaches, communicating with both parties and helping to formulate and enforce team policies. Lothrop represents the freshmen comprising more than half the team. (Senior Gael Mackie and junior Cortni Beers round out the Utah roster.)

“We’re a pretty close group,” says Lothrop. “The [older gymnasts] have been great.”

Corrie did have to overcome a frustrating bump in the road on her way here: When training for the World Championships in July of 2009, she ruptured her right Achilles tendon and had to put her plans on hold (she ended up sitting out a year before formally joining the Utah program for the 2010-11 season).

With the season opener approaching in January, her progress has advanced, and her prognosis looks bright. She worked out with the team at voluntary sessions during the summer of 2010 and continued to gain strength. By fall, both Marsdens were ready to proclaim Lothrop a favorite to participate in the all-around as a freshman.

“I’m still trying to figure out how to get around, but I’m starting to get the hang of it,” Lothrop says, speaking more of being a freshman on a new campus and starting college than of gymnastics, which she seems to have under control despite the injury. “But I’m fitting in. The coaches have been great, the team has been great, and I love the environment here.”

Which leaves us to ponder this season’s mix of “what ifs?” for the Red Rocks. There are plenty of new faces, but there’s also plenty of talent—as embodied by the diminutive gymnast from China by way of Massachusetts and Maryland.

“Corrie’s had a lot of experience at the highest level,” notes Greg Marsden. “She will make an immediate impact on our program and should become one of our strongest all-around gymnasts.”

Given her pedigree, Utah’s history of success, and the talent that surrounds her, 2011 may prove to be Corrie Lothrop’s most serendipitous yet.

—John Youngren works in advertising for Love Communications in Salt Lake City and has written many previous articles for Continuum.

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