The month is January, and in the crisp cold of the morning, an Oklahoma gymnast crawls out of bed. The day is young, but it is filled to the brim for Lara Albright.
You see, like many student-athletes, she has plenty on her plate: classes, homework, work-outs, team meetings, appointments with advisors. But Albright added something extra, a little test called the LSAT that was set for the beginning of February.
Albright spent her mornings in class, took an early lunch and practiced gymnastics in the afternoon with her highly-ranked Oklahoma team. She might have team meetings, treatments or even more class afterward, depending on the day. Then dinner, homework—both for the classes on her normal schedule and extra studying for the LSAT—a shower, and bed. Being a student-athlete is busy enough, so why not add “aspiring lawyer” to the mix?
For Albright, “good enough” has never been good enough. The senior has repeatedly challenged herself to be the best she can in the classroom and in the gym, and now she is reaping the rewards. In her final year of competition at OU, Albright is racking up a litany of academic and athletic awards at the University, conference and even national level.
Norman isn’t the city in which Albright’s NCAA gymnastics journey began. As a freshman, Albright accepted a scholarship to continue her academic and gymnastics career at the University of Washington. After a year of maturing and learning more about herself, she decided a change of scenery was in store and left her scholarship behind for the opportunity to walk on at the University of Oklahoma.
Being a transfer and a walk-on is no easy task. Albright had the challenge in her sophomore season of acclimating herself again to a new city, new campus, new team and new coaching staff. At the same time, she took confidence in her decision and knew what her goals had become.
“I think when I transferred I knew more of the direction I wanted to take my life,” Albright recalls. “I feel like when I came to OU I knew more about what I wanted to do and the things I wanted to achieve.”
That included achievement in both the classroom and in the gym. Albright made the decision to place a firm priority on her success in school and try to enjoy gymnastics more than she had in her freshman year.
“Because OU is ranked so highly athletically, I wasn’t too sure if I’d be able to compete as a transfer and a walk-on,” Albright said. “I just wanted to shift my focus to enjoying gymnastics: to still improve but not place as much emphasis on am I competing or am I not and to focus on school.”
A shift in attitude was a difference-maker for the walk-on gymnast. Albright jumped into the lead-off position on OU’s floor exercise team in her first season of competition and held that spot through both her sophomore and junior seasons.
“(OU head coach) K.J. (Kindler) always emphasized how important (the lead-off routine was). So even though I wasn’t at the back of the lineup, or the anchor, or someone who had the highest difficulty—especially my first year here—I still placed a lot of importance on getting a big score for my team. I know how it can shape the rest of the rotation.”
Albright’s improvement was marked, and every season brought new milestones for the gymnast as her importance to the team’s efforts continued to rise. She became a key component in OU’s lineup, helping the Sooners to an NCAA runner-up finish last season as a junior.
Starring in the gym wasn’t her only accomplishment.
Albright quickly rose up the ranks academically at OU, setting herself apart as a standout student-athlete to her professors. She earned Academic All-Big 12 honors in her first season of eligibility (2013), posting the conference’s only 4.0 GPA among all gymnasts honored. She was also named a Scholastic All-American by the National Association of Collegiate Gymnastics Coaches in both 2012 and 2013. But while her abilities shone, her professors described her optimistic attitude and tenacity as the features that made her an outstanding student.
“I’ve been teaching ... different universities for almost 20 years, and I don’t think I really appreciated how difficult it is for student-athletes until the last couple of years,” commented Jeffrey Schmidt, a Ph.D. associate professor in marketing at Oklahoma. “I know (Lara’s) grades are outstanding, but she doesn’t seem to be overly obsessed about it. She seems to have a good balance. She is able to go to the competitions and do a good job, and if she has a bad night, still bounce back and take a test the next day or two and move forward. I think it’s a lot of her attitude.”
Balance is a difficult thing to quantify, and Albright herself knows it, even as she continues to achieve it. She attributes her success to her own persistence in the classroom.
“Sometimes I think I know how I do it, and sometimes I don’t,” she laughs. “It just kind of stuck with me that I always expect myself to do well. That’s kind of how I achieve my philosophy for school. And I think that gymnastics—you try to be perfect, so I feel like it rubs off into school sometimes.”
As Albright’s academic career progressed, she realized she had many options for her future. The real issue would be deciding what direction she hoped to go.
After discussions with her parents about her goals during her junior year, Albright’s childhood dream of being a lawyer was rekindled. She decided to pursue the dream and began to prepare for the LSAT and apply to schools across the nation—all while preparing for her final season of gymnastics at OU.
Albright had her first encounter with the LSAT in October 2013, and the score she received was not on par with what she expected of herself. Albright was faced with a challenging decision: should she accept the score as it was, or should she re-take the LSAT in early February (during the thick of gymnastics season) and improve her score?
“When I talked to (head coach) K.J. (Kindler) about it, she said I could absolutely take the test in February, but her ultimate priority was to keep me from stressing out,” Albright said. “I was really stressed out when I tried to take the test in October, in August and September. I think that I didn’t do a very good job of leaving all that behind when I started practice, so practice was more frustrating and everybody could tell I was more stressed out.”
Happily, Albright found her second encounter with both LSAT prep and taking the test to be much less stressful.
“The second time around was a little bit easier,” Albright remembers. “I also studied for it in a different way. For the first test I attended a class and for the second one I just did one-on-one tutoring, which I think really helped because it made me more accountable.”
The outcome was also more favorable, and Albright found herself more satisfied with the results. Coupling the scores with her strong student-athlete résumé, Albright obviously impressed the law schools she applied to as well.
As of this writing, Albright has been accepted into law schools at Oklahoma, Baylor, Southern Methodist and Pepperdine.
Albright’s professors also see a bright future in store for the senior, and they feel a career in law is certainly suited to her competitive personality.
“She just likes to compete,” Dr. Schmidt says. “I think whether you’re competing on a gymnastics team or in a courtroom against another attorney, it’s the same kind of thing. You’ve got to prepare yourself, you’ve got to execute, you’ve got to look for their weaknesses, you’ve got to exploit opportunities. She just seems to know how to compete.
“I think the skills that she’s learned in a lifetime of gymnastics competition are going to help her in the courtroom or whatever she does regarding litigation or trial or whatever she’s doing with opposing forces. So I don’t think her career in gymnastics will be a detriment—it will be a benefit to her as she goes forward.”
Tuesdsay morning’s annual Max Weitzenhoffer Scholar-Athlete Breakfast only added to Albright’s list of honors. She joined freshman Chayse Capps (Jay Myers Award winner for outstanding freshmen) and senior Lauren Alexander (Athletics Council Achievement Award) as women’s gymnastics honorees.
As Albright’s incredible athletic and academic career at OU wind down, her list of awards and accolades only grows:
Big 12 Dr. Gerald Lage Academic Achievement Award. Academic All-Big 12. Dan Gibbens Outstanding Scholar-Athlete of the Year. Outstanding Senior in Marketing and Supply Chain Management. Michael F. Price College of Business Outstanding Student Award. NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship nominee.
In the gym, Albright has also had the finest season of her OU career as a senior:
Ten floor exercise routines of 9.9 or higher. All-Big 12 on floor. Two-time Big 12 Event Specialist of the Week. Ranked as high as 12th nationally on floor.
It’s been a career of fighting for what she knows she is capable of achieving, but Albright wouldn’t have it any other way. As her gymnastics career at Oklahoma winds down, there are still more milestones to be reached for Albright and her teammates in the city of Birmingham this weekend.