Every gymnast dreams of going to the Olympics. Denver senior Lynnzee Brown is no different, but her path is somewhat unorthodox. In June, Brown wrote a piece for FanWord revealing her desire to represent Haiti on the international stage.
Brown grew up in Kansas City, and as a club gymnast at well-known elite gym GAGE her coaches saw potential in her. She was selected to train with the elite group along with close friend Catelyn Orel, who competed for Nebraska and now serves as one of the assistant coaches at Arkansas.
Brown’s Olympic dream was always there, with Team USA even on her mind at one point. But body changes, injuries and general ups and downs that come with the sport led her to shift her focus. As a first generation college student, the pursuit of a college scholarship was as much of a dream to Brown as the Olympics, if not even more.
“I wasn’t super aware of what college really was, what it meant, what it looked like,” Brown said. Rather than having to figure everything out on her own, she was exposed to this new world through teammates, friends and mentors, ensuring she was “put on the right track.”
Orel was a shoulder to lean on and a brain to pick, serving as a resource to answer all of Brown’s questions as a current college gymnast. Ultimately, the decision to attend the University of Denver was Brown’s. “I just told her, ‘When you know you’ll know. It’ll feel like family, and you’ll know you belong.’ That ended up being Denver for her.”
Once Brown was at Denver, she quickly became a fan favorite thanks to her dynamic skills and fun personality. In 2019, she became Denver’s second-ever national champion when she earned the national floor title.
Despite setbacks since her breakout performance—an Achilles tear and the cancelation of the end of the 2020 season—she never got discouraged and lost sight of her goals. “Knowing Lynnzee and her determination, that desire has stayed there and her love of the sport has stayed there,” Orel said.
Her focus shifted from representing Team USA at the Olympics to college all those years ago, but her dream always remained in the back of her mind.
“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do and realizing that a lot of my gymnastics has developed positively since coming to college made me realize it’s going to be sad for me if I always wonder what if,” Brown said. “I should at least give myself a chance.”
She’s still working back to full strength, with her sights set on the 2021 NCAA season as well as the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.
“[Tokyo] would just be way too quick of a turnaround to be coming off an injury and NCAA season and go straight into elite things,” she said. “[Shooting for 2024] will give me more time to figure out logistics, like how do you get dual citizenship and how do I get sponsors to help me out, because it’s going to be a lot of monetary weight to bear as well.”
Representing the United States was out of the picture now, but Haiti was an obvious next choice. The connection comes through her father, who is a native of the country and had Brown’s brother and sister there before moving to the United States when they were 10 years old. However, having been primarily raised by her mom, Brown doesn’t know as much about her Haitian heritage.
“I knew that I had a dual identity, and I’ve always wanted to know more,” Brown said. Her goal to represent Haiti is the next step in the process. And while Brown is just starting to explore this side of her identity and heritage, the impact expands far wider than she even realizes.
“It would mean everything [to Haiti],” former Denver teammate Nikole Addison said. “When I was growing up, I don’t think I knew another Haitian gymnast. It opens so many doors, and it really shows kids that they are capable and they can have those opportunities.”
Plus, despite the fact that her Haitian roots stem from her father, Brown plans to dedicate her journey to her mom, who passed away last year. “Lynnzee’s strength—she definitely gets that from her mom,” Orel said. “I’m just proud of her for how she’s been able to handle it and honor her mom with everything she’s doing now.”
Paris is still some time away, and the road will be long and grueling, but there are already clear signs that Brown has an army of supporters to back her along the way, from her family, Orel and Addison to GAGE coach Armine Baruytan and Denver coaches Linas Gaveika and Jessica Lopez, who is a three-time Olympian in her own right.
“I’m very lucky to have so many people that have the knowledge to help me,” Brown said. “I thought about taking the summer and going back to GAGE and learning skills and then coming back to Colorado and maybe critiquing and fine tuning. I’ve just learned so many things from different areas.”
“Her mentality around the sport and life in general—she’s matured so much, and it’s just grown her to be such a great leader now in and outside the gym,” Orel said. “I’m just so proud of her.”
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Article by Tara Graeve
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