June 10, 2010
NORMAN, Okla. – For University of Oklahoma gymnast Hollie Vise, her Sooner career ended exactly opposite from the way it began as she was one of two Big 12 Sportspersons of the Year announced today by the league office. Selected by a panel of media, Vise and former Kansas football player Darrell Stuckey will be the conference’s nominees for the NCAA award.
“I am so proud of all that Hollie has accomplished and what an incredible person she has become,” OU head coach K.J. Kindler said. “I think anyone who has had the opportunity to meet her and interact with her would agree that she is very deserving of this honor.”
The Sportspersons of the Year Award started in 2000-01 to annually recognize student-athletes who displayed an extraordinary degree of sportsmanship and/or community service during the academic year. This marks the second consecutive year that OU has produced a Big 12 Sportsperson of the Year as Ashley Paris and Blake Griffin were the 2009 honorees. Griffin went on to be a national finalist in Division I.
“She honestly appreciates all the opportunities she has been given and will continue to be a superb ambassador for the Big 12 and the University of Oklahoma,” Kindler said.
In addition to helping OU to its best-ever finish in the 2010 NCAA Championships, Vise was active in a number of community service activities including working on a benefit for Haiti, volunteering at the Firehouse Art Center, helping with the Athletics Department Red Cross blood drive and participating in the the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. Vise was also very involved in activities that included children including the Sunday Funday at Jefferson Elementary School, a fund-raiser for childhood leukemia research, working the Cancer Kids Camp, participating in the Children’s Miracle Network Fitness Challenge, volunteering at the Athletics Department safe Halloween Trick or Treat and hosting Special Spectators, a program for seriously ill children at the Oklahoma Children’s Hospital.
Vise, a former world champion on the uneven bars, arrived on the Norman campus two years removed from any training or competition. A world champ in 2003, Vise appeared to be a lock for a spot on the 2004 U.S. Olympic team. However, in a break from tradition and in front of a national audience, the team was announced and Vise had been left off the list.
That disappointment led her to take a two-year break from training and competition. Still, she signed a letter of intent to compete in gymnastics at the University of Oklahoma with the understanding that she would compete one year and help promote the program as a former world champion.
As life often does, things changed and Vise faced a new challenge. A coaching change had taken place at OU and the new staff expected her to compete or give up the scholarship. Kindler remembered the first time she met face to face with Vise, and the outlook wasn’t good.
“I knew she had signed with OU and I had heard that she had been away from the gym in terms of training,” Kindler explained. “When I got to campus, I met with her and she was 30 pounds overweight, out of shape and had no intention of competing. I told her my expectations and they started with a serious conditioning plan and getting back into the gym to do gymnastics.
“I made sure she understood that this was the only option or she would need to be replaced,” Kindler continued. “She told me that she could not afford college without the scholarship … and that’s when I told her what it would take.”
The Hollie Vise who showed up at the gym for her first practice, a former world champion on bars, couldn’t even do the most basic of skills. According to her coach, she struggled to re-learn very basic skills, ones that any eight-year-old competing in the sport could do.
“She paled in comparison to her teammates and that’s part of what makes what she became so amazing,” Kindler added. “She was humbled, scared and frankly, out of her league. She swallowed her pride, and did literally everything I asked in terms of getting back in shape. She didn’t complain, but quietly went about her business.”
As a freshman, Vise saw limited action on beam, not even competing on the event that she had won a world title in just four years earlier. By her sophomore year, she had progressed to the point that she competed beam and bars and she won the Big 12 title on bars. She continued on those two events as a junior, earning regular season all-conference honors on both. All the while, she continued to swallow her pride and work hard, pursuing the dream of competing at a very high level in the sport she loved and setting an example for her teammates, many who had easily outperformed the world champion in earlier years.
As a senior, her metamorphosis was complete. She served as the Sooners’ team captain and led the squad to its second undefeated regular season in three years. OU, with Vise competing on three events, won its third consecutive Big 12 title and the Northeast Regional title on the way to a second-place finish at the NCAA, a program best.
Vise won Big 12 titles on bars, beam and floor, just the third gymnast in Big 12 history to win three individual titles at the championship. She added a beam title in the regional, All-America honors on beam, bars and floor and then finished as the runner-up in bars and beam during the individual event final competition at the NCAA Championships. Vise’s floor routines, the first time for her to compete on that event at the NCAA, looked like those of people who had been competing in that event for four years. The University of Florida crowd and everyone else in the gym, mindful of how far she had come, saluted her performance with a huge round of applause.
“A two-year hiatus from gymnastics is huge,” Kindler added. “Most gymnasts cannot take more than a month off. It took a special person to do what Hollie did. She didn’t talk about being a world champion or an Elite gymnast. She had to earn her teammates’ respect because everyone of them, including the walk-ons, were so far ahead of her in skill level when she came back to the gym. She could have given up, embarrassed and humiliated by her fall from glory. Instead, she rose up … pushing through each road block and landing on top.”
Another former Sooner gymnast and former Olympian, Kelly Garrison, the last Sooner to experience similar success as Vise on the NCAA level, understood what Vise had accomplished.
“You have to understand that what Hollie did is a challenge that few people would have pursued,” Garrison said. “She didn’t train for two full years and then, through hard work, determination and the support of the coaches and her teammates, she climbed to the top step of the award stand. So many people would have never accepted the challenge and among those who did, few would have stayed with it to reach the level of success that Hollie enjoyed as a senior. From where she started four years ago, it is almost unbelievable that she has closed her career in this way. For those of us who watched her, though, she really has accomplished a one-of-a-kind career.”
This journey, though, wasn’t just about Vise. It took a coach who was willing to take a chance on her and, for Kindler, the end results more than make up for early doubts.
“Through all of the ups and downs, Hollie has embraced this experience. I know a lot of people said she wasn’t very serious about college gymnastics because she didn’t stay in shape or come in prepared. People said it was a shame that she couldn’t have been like this from day one but I don’t think I would have wanted that Hollie. I want this one. She’s had to go through so much and she’s had to push. It’s been a struggle – coming from where she was when she came in the gym door, to be quite honest. She’s learned life lessons and I think she’s a better person for it.”
The journey also included her teammates who had been with her every step of the way, the rest of her senior class. For them, the transformation has been equally stunning. She earned their respect, just as she re-learned the basic routines of her sport. She encouraged them by showing them what was possible, and they will take those lessons with them forever.
Her respect for the sport, the support of her teammates and the championship expectations of a coach who took a chance on her led her to a special point on her final night of competition. As she left the floor at the NCAA Championship following her final routine as a Sooner, she soaked up the moment and saluted the Sooner crowd. Later she would say that competing in college “has made me love the sport all over again,” strong words for someone who saw her dreams shattered by the sport she loved.
And in the end, the recognition that Hollie Vise did bring to the Oklahoma gymnastics program was so much more meaningful than anything she could have done as a world champion.
BIG 12 SPORTSPERSONS OF THE YEAR
2001 -- Kim Woodlee, Kansas State; basketball
2002 -- Natalie Ritchie, Texas Tech; basketball
2003 -- Laura Pilakowski, Nebraska; volleyball
2004 -- Jessika Stratton, Baylor; basketball
2005 -- Richelle Simpson, Nebraska; gymnastics
2006 -- Jodie Heinicka, Missouri; gymnastics
2007 -- Amanda Costner, Kansas; golf
2008 -- Katie Martincich, Kansas; volleyball
2009 -- Ashley Paris, Oklahoma; basketball
2010 -- Hollie Vise, Oklahoma; gymnastics
2001 -- Dan Alexander, Nebraska; football
2002 -- Cael Sanderson, Iowa State; wrestling
2003 -- Jeff Leise, Nebraska; baseball
2004 -- Mark Clayton and Lynn McGruder, Oklahoma; football
2005 -- Ahmard Hall, Texas; football
2006 -- Parker Dalton, Texas A&M; baseball
2007 -- Carl Pendleton, Oklahoma; football
2008 -- Mamadou Diene, Baylor; basketball
2009 -- Blake Griffin, Oklahoma; basketball
2010 -- Darrell Stuckey, Kansas; football