On January 29, 2022, Lynnzee Brown’s fifth year of competition abruptly ended in heartbreaking fashion: The Denver all-around star tore her Achilles for the second time in her career during the Pioneers’ meet at Oklahoma.
Between the extra year of eligibility due to the COVID-19 pandemic and her two Achilles tears, Brown was eligible to take a sixth year and seized the opportunity. At first, she wasn’t thinking about a potential sixth year. She was focused on supporting her team and staying in the moment. As time went on, she realized she’d be eligible for a sixth year. The ultimate motivator to come back? Her team.
“I am really understanding what the value of a team is and having the mindset of this is my last year three times over really made me think about the relationships and what that means,” Brown said. “It is something I took for granted previously. And this year, I’m really taking advantage of it because I know how valuable it is.”
As much as the individual accolades are exciting, Brown has especially embraced a team-first mentality this season. The team slowly eased her back into lineups, starting with bars and beam, then vault, and finally floor. Earlier this season she noted the pacing, remarking they were making sure she was ready for the end of the season when the team needed her most.
“I’m very thankful that I got to experience what it’s like to be the best for a year and because I got that I can really put my energy into…what can I do for my team and how we can be the best together?” Brown said.
Her floor debut at home against West Virginia on February 12 was much of the same. Though she warmed up floor pre-meet, it seemed as though all signs were pointing to the long-awaited debut waiting at least another week. Until Jessica Hutchinson started not to feel well. The junior all-arounder was scratched after vault, and Brown stepped up in her place on floor.
“We always talk about having each other’s backs as a team and it was great to be prepared for that moment,” Brown said of her debut.
Her floor debut was a long time coming, but it was worth the wait. Immediately recognizable beyond her signature tumbling is the choreography that pays tribute to two of the Denver gymnasts she looked up to as exceptional people, gymnasts and “fellow Brown girls:” 2016 NCAA floor champion Nina McGee and Nikole Addison. It’s a routine that had been on her mind for a few years but never came to fruition.
When it came time to create this year’s routine, she was low on ideas after five seasons. After years of thinking about it, she decided to make the tribute a reality. “Why not do it? This is a gift year, again,” Brown said. “Last one best one.”
Back in 2016, McGee earned a 10 for her routine and went on to become Denver’s first national champion on floor. McGee noted that she chose the original music, which starts with “Worth It” by Fifth Harmony, and choreography out of the idea that she was worth scoring a 10 and deserving of it. Like McGee, Brown is a floor national champion, earning a share of the 2019 title.
Opening Brown’s 2023 routine is a familiar sequence. Again set to “Worth It,” Brown starts with McGee’s iconic pointing choreography.
“The beginning was so legendary for Nina,” Brown said. “It was the most recognizable right off the bat.” McGee added that it’s her favorite part from the original routine, and she was excited for Brown to bring it back.
Then, it’s straight into her explosive double layout, the same pass McGee did in her routine.
McGee joked that when she first debuted that choreography, people around her questioned it. “They were like, ‘How are you doing that?’ And [going] right into a double lay like, ‘Are your knees OK? We’re old,’ because at the time I was on the older end,” she joked. “And I’m like, ‘Yeah, it’s fine, you pop right back up.’ I was just sitting—seeing the crowd’s reaction when [Brown] did that.”
The middle part of the routine includes parts from Addison’s senior year routine—Brown’s first year at Denver. During that year, Addison became an important mentor to Brown.
“I remember as a freshman watching her do that part, and she just would get into it,” Brown said. “When I think of Nikole and her gymnastics, that moment is what I think of—that piano down the leg.”
Though Addison didn’t have a say in what parts Brown ultimately used, she hoped it would be this one.
“The section that she chose is perfect,” Addison said. “It was my favorite part from that floor routine, so I think she did a great job.”
Through the process of creating the routine, “They trusted me, which was super awesome of them. They didn’t have to,” Brown said. “They were super excited. And they were like, ‘make it your own. We trust you to go out and do it good and do it justice.’”
Adding the parts of those routines was easy for Brown.
“Because I was a fan before, I really got to know them. So I grew up watching it—well, not really grew up. But in high school, once I committed, I was really watching. And watching Nina, I memorized [her routine] before I even had done the routine,” Brown said.
To put the finishing touches on the rest of the routine, Brown enlisted outside help.
“For the last half, I had some help from a [Denver] Nuggets cheerleader. And she was great,” Brown said. “It was really cool to work with somebody who’s so passionate about dance and who’s local. And she’s another Brown girl. It’s another person in the community that helped me make this such a success.”
Just like McGee and Addison left their marks on the program, Brown hopes to do the same.
“I want to be that person that somebody looks up to. I love Mila [Brusch] so much, and I kind of feel like that relationship I had with Nikole with Mila,” Brown said. “It’s just setting up the future—not just Mila, but everyone, just setting them up for success and to know that they are way more capable than they know. Nikole and Nina did that for me.”
In the words of McGee, “The legacy continues. Nikole and I set the tone for Lynnzee. And now she’s setting it for somebody else that’s coming through. All of the work that we put in is paying off.”
Article by Tara Graeve
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