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Illini of the week Feb. 9: Lizzy LeDuc

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Portrait of Lizzie LeDuc

Portrait of Lizzie LeDuc

Ryan Fang

Ryan Fang

Portrait of Lizzie LeDuc

Danielle Williams, Staff writer

Many college gymnasts often begin participating in the sport between the ages of two and five.

But Illinois gymnast Lizzy LeDuc, was introduced to the sport at seven.

“I was always doing flips and little cartwheels when I was younger,” LeDuc said. “One day my parents said, ‘Okay, we need to put this girl in a sport.’ So, they put me in tumbling, talked to a few coaches and soon enough I was in gymnastics.”

Her late start did not keep her from achieving success, as she quickly worked her way up the USA Gymnastics Junior Olympic Program’s competition levels. Most gymnasts begin at Level 1, which consists mainly of four- and five-year-olds.

At seven years old, LeDuc skipped Level 4 and competed in Level 5. She then rapidly moved to Level 6, where she participated in one meet before advancing.

She then went on to Level 7, completed a year in both Levels 8 and 9, and by 10 years old, she competed in Level 10. By the time the Texas native reached junior elite, she was 11 years old.

But about four or five years later, she went back to Level 10.

“There’s a big difference between elite and Level 10 in a lot of ways,” LeDuc said. “I wasn’t having fun in elite. I needed to have a change in perspective. I wanted to be more relaxed compared to having a tight schedule.”

LeDuc, along with her five siblings, was homeschooled for most of her life.

About two years prior to heading to college, LeDuc broke both of her feet. After surgery, she was out for 12 weeks — no competing, no training and no gymnastics.

LeDuc said that there were a few times in her career she wanted to quit gymnastics altogether.

“Gymnastics takes a big toll on your body,”LeDuc said. “I couldn’t train for weeks. Some days I asked myself if it’s even worth it anymore. My dad always pushed me to stick with it, and I am so glad he did.”

She conquered adversity and competed with the Philippine National Team in June of 2015. There, she qualified for the floor exercise and the all-around. The team took bronze at the Southeast Asian Games.

“I would say that my experience in the Philippines in a way helped me moving forward to the collegiate level,” LeDuc said. “ We competed a lot more, but more as a team. College is such a big team sport, so it helped there.”

LeDuc initially committed to Louisiana State University, but then chose to attend Illinois in the fall of 2015.

“When I first visited here, it was snowing badly,” LeDuc said. “ I’m not a big fan of the cold, but I met the team and the coaches and I fell in love with all of it. It’s a lot different than Texas, but the campus is beautiful. What’s a college experience without the differences, you know?”

During her first year competing for the University, she qualified for the NCAA Championships and set a career-high 9.950 on the floor at the Salt Lake City Regional.

The NCAA Championships took place in her hometown of Dallas.

“It was weird,” LeDuc said. “You get so used to being with your team all of the time. It was a great experience. Most of my teammates flew to Dallas to support me. The fact that it was in Dallas and my family was there to support me in such a big meet meant a lot to me.”

This year, LeDuc is back for the Illini after a record-breaking rookie season, being honored as Big Ten Gymnast of the Week twice this season.

When she isn’t practicing, training or competing, the gymnast is hanging out with friends and watching Netflix.

“LeDuc is a super talented athlete,” head coach Kim Landrus said. “She’s a fun, bubbly person with a great personality.

That about her makes her more fun to coach. She also prepares herself very well, to go out on the competition floor and wow the audience and the judges and gets it done.”

LeDuc hopes to make a lasting impression on Illini fans and leave a legacy within the Illinois gymnastics program.

“Right now I’m focused on college, but who knows what’s going to happen in the future,” LeDuc said. “Maybe I’ll go back to the Philippines and compete for its Olympic team.”

dw3@dailyillini.com
@daniijaae

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