Four years, one sport. That’s how most recruits envision their collegiate gymnastics career to go. It also couldn’t be farther from reality for Bridgeport’s Alexis Richardson. She is one of five gymnasts in the nation this season using a sixth eligibility year. Typically filling a leg event role, her skillset has also been utilized at times by the school’s varsity cross country and lacrosse teams.
Originally committed to Bridgeport with only gymnastics in mind, Richardson had a seemingly typical student-athlete experience with the exception of redshirting her 2020 season. But then the Purple Knights did not compete in 2021, freeing up Richardson to play lacrosse alongside other friends on the team. Though she hadn’t played the sport since before high school, her inclusion was a no brainer, as the team wouldn’t have otherwise had enough athletes to play.
The 2022 season saw a similar dilemma for Bridgeport’s cross country team. “They also didn’t have enough girls to run, so the lacrosse coach suggested that maybe I would join,” Richardson said. Both the lacrosse and cross country coaches reached out to gymnastics head coach Lorraine Galow to see if it was even a possibility. “I said why not? So last year during the fall I practiced gymnastics during the week and then I ran cross country on the weekends.” Galow notes that this schedule was made possible because of communication between sports at Bridgeport—a testament to the community fostered at a school with less than 5,000 students.
She often reminds her athletes that “this is your path, at the end of the day. Whatever you want to do, we want to try to make it possible.” A part of that is seeing the whole person. They’re student-athletes, but they’re people before students, before athletes. “There’s only a small chunk of your life where you get to try before you’re thrown out into the world,” Galow said. “While you have opportunities to do what you want, you should do it.”
Richardson’s athletic pursuits overlapped in both 2021 and 2022. The lacrosse season started halfway through gymnastics, so she picked up game days once they no longer overlapped with gymnastics training. Homework was a weekend mainstay throughout, which proved to be a time-management hurdle while commuting as far as upstate New York for cross country. Her training assignments during her dual season in 2022 were catered by Galow to not be physically overwhelming, as she needed to be in preseason form for one sport while also being in-season for the other. “This is the teacher in me that lesson plans on an individual basis,” affirmed Galow.
The last two seasons of time management and pushing athletic boundaries came in handy for Richardson, who found herself positioned to make her collegiate all-around debut as a super senior. Through a series of preseason injuries and transfers, Bridgeport had only 12 gymnasts at its disposal for 2022. On Galow’s account, “We made it look easy from the outside. Our goal starting last year was very different. By the time we got to meet two, we were like, maybe our goal is to put up whatever we have and enjoy it.”
How did halving the previous year’s roster affect Richardson? She dusted off her old beam skills— the event she was most eager to drop after level 10 — and is well in the mix to compete it again in 2023.
Her 2023 campaign will no doubt build off the team’s hurdles since 2020. Between injuries, a small roster, a global pandemic and uncertainty about the school’s future itself, she’s looking forward to seeing the team reach its potential after three compromised years. With increased depth comes heightened goals for this year’s upperclassmen, including qualifying a full team to USAG nationals and the night session of the GEC championship.
Scoring goals aside, Bridgeport prides itself off its strong alumni base and maintaining team traditions dating back over 50 years. For Richardson and her fellow seniors, success this season will also be measured by how they’re able to guide younger gymnasts through learning the team’s culture. Passing on rituals, including the decades-old UB Girls cheer, falls on upperclassmen each year, but it will no doubt mean more during one of the biggest fresh starts seen in college gymnastics this year.
The Purple Knights are set to open their season Sunday, Jan. 8 on the road with Southern Connecticut at West Chester at 1:00 p.m. Eastern. For Richardson, this season will be a celebration, and a final opportunity to see the team’s traditions throughout. She’s eager to take on Bridgeport’s comeback year, and as a veteran, she point blank notes she “wasn’t ready to be done.”
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Article by Peri Goodman
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