There’s an old saying down in the Bayou that says that you can take the gymnast out of the Tiger but not the Tiger out of the gymnast. Historians dispute its authenticity, but in Nina Ballou’s case there’s little doubt of its veracity. The Tiger has been roaring in her chest since she was nine years old and attended her first LSU gymnastics camp.
Since then, Ballou’s grown to become one of the best gymnasts in the class of 2025. She medaled in the all around at the last three national championships—including winning gold in 2022—and qualified twice to the Nastia Liukin Cup. She boasts career highs of 9.900 or better on three events and is the No. 4 recruit in her class.
Thanks to her exceptional career, when her recruiting process began in June she received phone calls from the best schools in the country. Many offers were attractive, yet no school felt as right as LSU.
As she chose the colleges she wished to visit, Ballou was methodical about the process. Given her busy schedule, she decided to concentrate on her top choices. “I kept who I was talking to pretty minimal,” she explained. “I wanted to be able to give every college I was interested in my 100%.” Additionally, she didn’t want to take away any visits from fellow gymnasts whose No. 1 school was her No. 7 or No. 8 choice. Her top criteria for picking the schools to visit were “diversity, NIL opportunity, [a] huge fanbase, and that family feel.”
After careful consideration, she decided to pay visits to Florida, LSU, Oklahoma and UCLA. She had an “amazing” time on all of them, but after her official visit to LSU—the second of the four—she knew she wanted to call Baton Rouge home. “I did end up taking the rest of my visits because I felt that I owed it to myself to explore all of my options,” Ballou said. “After everything was done I felt that I needed to be at LSU, so the decision was pretty clear.”
“I chose LSU because it immediately felt like home,” Ballou said of her decision. “I’ve been going to camp there since I was nine, and I just feel that I can truly be myself there. I love my future coaches—they are incredibly supportive of all aspects of my life, not just my gymnastics. I’m super excited to see what this team can do in the future, and I can’t wait to be on a team with my fellow Tigers.”
“I’ve always wanted to win the team a national championship and I’m ready to do what it takes to achieve that,” she added. “I also want to form bonds with my future teammates and coaches because they really will turn into my second family.”
Once the decision was made, Ballou chose to make it public with two fun reveals—a sophisticated video for the fans and a hat ceremony for her school friends.
The video, which she and her mother created with the help of Kidd Visual, unveils Ballou’s gymnastics journey, from her first steps in the gymnastics world all the way to her college announcement. Her full athletic scholarship to LSU is “a big deal,” Ballou explained, “and I felt that little Nina needed to be showcased because that’s when the journey began.” With the video, she added, she wished to recognize the gymnastics fans who, with their “speculation and talk,” “bring a lot of attention to our sport.”
The hat ceremony, instead, was for her school friends. It was supposed to be a small reveal but much of the school showed up. The video was subsequently posted on TikTok and went viral, reaching 1.9 million views this week. “I’m really close with my school friends and they were all really invested in my whole recruiting process, so I felt that the hat ceremony would be a fun idea,” Ballou said. “I was shocked that I went viral on TikTok.”
Now that the Tiger is out of the hat, Ballou’s happy that little Nina kept fighting through the hard times, even when her dreams seemed out of reach. “I would tell [young Nina] that there are going to be tough times and I’m not always going to love the outcome of things I can’t control,” she said. “But keep pushing and keep the passion for the sport because that will allow me to achieve all my goals and dreams.”
Article by Talitha Ilacqua