May 10, 2013
NORMAN, Okla. - Kelly Garrison-Funderburk is the most decorated gymnast in the history of the Oklahoma women's gymnastics program.
At OU, Garrison was a two-time Honda Award winner as the top gymnast in the nation, four-time national champion, seven-time All-American and 10-time Big 8 Conference champion.
Now, 25 years after her senior season, Garrison-Funderburk is adding one more accolade - University of Oklahoma graduate.
The 1988 Olympian will join 151 current and former OU student-athletes this weekend to receive her diploma after fulfilling the requirements for a bachelor's degree in multidisciplinary studies.
Garrison-Funderburk began her athletic career at OU as a wide-eyed but confident teenager in 1987 and dominated the collegiate gymnastics scene for the next two seasons. The Altus, Okla., native swept every Big 8 Championship title both years, won four national titles, including two all-around crowns, and was named the top collegiate gymnast in the country both seasons after setting numerous NCAA records.
After her second season at Oklahoma, Garrison-Funderburk was named to the 1988 US Olympic team and represented her country in Seoul, South Korea, before beginning her professional career as a gymnast, clinic coach, choreographer and motivational speaker to young students.
“It was fun to be an inspiration, stay in my sport and use all of that knowledge I had,” Garrison-Funderburk said. My head coach at OU, Becky [Switzer] inspired a lot of us gymnasts to be creative and it was continuing that legacy a little bit.”
But after 18 years traveling the country, the Sooner great decided it was time to come home to Oklahoma. Shortly after moving back, she met and eventually married her husband, Tom Funderburk, and is now a mother to 7-year-old Ryan and 5-year-old Olivia.
It was talking to Tom one day while noticing her growing children that Garrison-Funderburk knew it was time to finish what she had begun 25 years before.
“My reasons for getting my degree were three-fold,” Garrison-Funderburk said. “First, I wanted to complete what I started. The second reason was, as my kids are starting school, to be an example to them and show them that it is important to graduate.”
The third reason? Garrison-Funderburk’s love and respect for the Crimson and Cream.
“I wanted the title,” she said. “I had the title of Olympian and what that represents, and now I wanted the same type of title that provides the accolades of an OU graduate. There’s a lot of prestige in that title that I think a lot of people take for granted.”
While working, Garrison-Funderburk could have taken time to graduate at another university, but for her there was only one choice.
"It gives you a sense of pride to be a part of OU,” Garrison-Funderburk said. “I didn’t have an ounce of interest in graduating from anywhere but OU. It was either graduate from OU or nowhere. It’s not just because I competed at Oklahoma, I wanted the prestigious title of being an Oklahoma graduate."
Friday, Garrison-Funderburk will give one of the keynote addresses at the athletic department’s annual Graduate Reception after being chosen to speak to this year’s class.
“My husband said ‘I thought someone was supposed to be speaking to you,’” Garrison-Funderburk said of being chosen to speak. “I said, ‘Me too!’ But a 45-year-old’s perspective is different than a 25-year-old’s perspective. There are no limits to what we can do, not just as athletes but with what they have learned by being athletes and in their programs. The combination is limitless in what we can do; it’s deciding what to do.”
So what’s next now for the new college graduate? While her first priority is to be a mother, Garrison-Funderburk is a people person and could see herself working again, taking what she’s gained from her studies to help others and promote causes. She may also continue to promote Oklahoma women’s gymnastics and the sport as an analyst for Sooner Sports TV like she did this past season.But no matter what she does, this OU legend will now always be known as Kelly Garrison-Funderburk: national champion, Olympian, wife, mother – and University of Oklahoma alum.