Most gymnasts spend their entire careers chasing perfection. For Taylor Houchin, her senior year is about learning how to focus on something else: living in the present and being a leader for her teammates.
“I just want to live in the moment and have the most fun and I can have because it’s my last year,” Houchin said. “I don’t really care about scores or winning; I just want to enjoy my last year and be present.”
The Nebraska senior from Republic, Missouri, has had a career any aspiring collegiate gymnast would dream of emulating. She established herself as a leader for the Huskers right away, having been named the Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 2017. Since then she has collected an impressive list of accolades: first-team All-American, first-team All-Big Ten and twice-earned Big Ten Gymnast of the Week awards. Most recently she was announced as a nominee for the AAI Award, which is presented to the most outstanding collegiate senior female gymnast in the country.
“She’s a perfectionist by nature, and that’s what really drives her day in and day out—having those expectations of herself,” head coach Heather Brink said. It is this work ethic that has made her into such a strong leader on the team. “Taylor is just kind of that constant, lead-by-example type of person. In the gym she’s constantly putting in the work, even on the tough days.”
It’s during those tough days that Houchin’s ability to focus on being there for her teammates is the most noticeable. Being a leader they can depend on is important to her, and it forces her to stay positive and keep her head in the game. “[I’ve learned] how to be a leader even in those moments where I make a mistake and I just wanna leave,” Houchin said. “It taught me to focus on my teammates instead of so much on my performance. Even if I have a bad turn, to be able to build my teammates up anyways because that’s what I need to shift my mentality to.”
The Huskers’ loss to Minnesota on Saturday night was not without errors from Houchin, who had a fall on bars and went out of bounds on floor. There may have been moments in the past where those errors would have derailed her efforts on the remaining events, but that was not the case here. Houchin bounced back from her bars mistake by recording a 9.950 and winning the event title on vault, and followed floor with one of her strongest beam routines of the season. It is in these moments that Brink notices the most growth in her star senior.
“In the past after making a mistake it would have been hard for her to even come back and do as well as she did on vault and beam,” Brink said. “We saw her smiling as opposed to being frustrated with herself going into the last event, and in that sense, that’s growth for Taylor—being able to let it go.”
Learning to shift her perspective away from perfection has led to some unexpected benefits for Houchin. “It’s pretty surprising how much more fun the meets are when I try to have the mentality of just enjoying the moment instead of focusing more on the outcome,” Houchin said. “It’s just a lot more fun to be competing that way, and it’s a lot more fun with my teammates when I’m positive and happy and we can all build off each other’s energy.”
Houchin is someone her teammates look up to and call on for guidance. “She’s a source for [her younger teammates] to be able to go to, ask for advice. She can really be the leader in that aspect, in taking some of the younger ones under her wings and leaving an impact on the team in that manner,” Brink said.
Achieving perfection may still be a goal for Houchin—who is unapologetic about the expectations she sets for herself—but it is no longer the main focus. Instead, she is looking at all of the lessons her time in the sport has taught her as she imagines life beyond the gym. “It’s definitely made me a stronger leader. It’s made me mentally stronger, physically stronger—a lot of qualities I can carry afterwards.”
Houchin’s legacy will extend far beyond her accolades, and the impact left on her team will set the tone for years to come.
Article by Kalley Leer
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