Long before walking through the doors of the University of Oklahoma’s Sam Viersen Gymnastics Center, Hunter Justus and Reese Rickett were two kids training in Cypress, Texas, just northwest of Houston. Little did they know, their gymnastics careers would share a similar trajectory.
Justus started at Cypress Gymnastics Academy a few years before Rickett. Prior to that, Rickett was at a smaller gym and the two knew each other solely as competitors.
“Hunter said I was a guy who did not talk to anybody,” Rickett said. “I was not into socializing with people. I did not know the team aspect of gymnastics.”
Once the two were under the same roof at the age of 10, any differences were pushed aside and their personalities meshed.
“When I went to Cypress, he and I became friends quickly,” Rickett said. “He is one of my best friends. The friendship is always going to be there.”
“It’s your typical bro story,” Justus added. “We’ve been best friends throughout high school and college. I will always have Reese and Reese will always have me.”
The pair competed at Cypress together throughout high school, always pushing each other to improve. Rickett, who is a year older than Justus, finished his time at Cypress and wanted to continue competing collegiately. Though a scholarship offer was not in place in Oklahoma, head coach Mark Williams wanted Rickett to be a Sooner.
“I actually got an offer somewhere else,” Rickett said. “Mark got me on the phone and said we could figure something out. That’s when I committed to come to OU.”
With Rickett already in Norman, Justus’ decision on where to continue his gymnastics career became clear. He knew he wanted to follow his best friend.
“I knew I wanted to go wherever Reese went,” Justus said. “It was pretty easy to make that decision.”
"It's your typical bro story. We've been best friends throughout high school and college. I will always have Reese and Reese will always have me."
- Hunter Justus
Looking back at their four years in college gymnastics, Justus and Rickett each developed their own role on the team.
Justus is an all-arounder and is considered a catalyst for the team. With his intensity and passion, his performance on any event can energize the lineup.
“We’ve put him up first on events because we know he can handle that pressure,” Williams said. “He gets the guys going. As a leader, he tries to rally everyone behind him. He tries to put everyone on his shoulders.”
Rickett is a still rings specialist who has shown steady improvement each year.
“His work ethic has been unmatched,” Williams said. “He has developed his strength and has been working on making his swing more clean.”
A career-defining moment for Rickett came at last year’s NCAA Championships, where he led off for the Sooners on rings. He put together one of the best routines of his career and helped OU distance itself from the field on its way to a national title.
Regardless of their roles, the results speak for themselves. Since both arrived at OU, Justus and Rickett have been named All-Americans, the Sooners have been crowned NCAA Champions three straight times and have strung together more than 80 consecutive wins.
With a long list of accomplishments and accolades between them, they will soon walk away from gymnastics most grateful for the memories they created together.
“Not a lot of people get to grow up together and go to school together from middle school through college,” Justus said of his friendship with Rickett. “That’s pretty crazy, to have a best friend that has been through everything with you.”
With everything they have given to OU gymnastics, Justus and Rickett know the sport has provided lessons that they will carry with them for the rest of their lives.
“Gymnastics taught me how to live,” Rickett said. “Always try to make the most of everything and get the most out of relationships.”
Said Justus: “It has shaped me as a person. It has taught me discipline and it has taught me what really matters.”
Though they compete in the final home meet of their careers this Saturday, the end goal has not changed in their last season. Justus and Rickett are looking to win their fourth straight national title, a feat that no one has accomplished since Nebraska won five in a row from 1979 to 1983.