Standing on the training floor inside the LSU Gym Facility, Ruby Harrold poses for a portrait.
Her new coach at LSU, D-D Breaux, watches closely to make sure the photos come out right.
“Face this way,” Breaux tells Harrold.
It’s one of the first times that Harrold, a freshman from Bristol, England, has had the opportunity to don her new purple and gold leotard before the 2017 NCAA season begins.
For Harrold, preparation for her career in college starts in a few days, and while leaving the United Kingdom for college is not the norm, she’s ready for it.
“[Competing] in college is unheard of at home,” Harrold said. “You do it because you enjoy it. It’s definitely a big change.”
‘It was all a bit hectic’
Medals aren’t hard to come by for Harrold.
She’s competed in multiple European and World Championships, most recently earning a silver medal in the team competition at the European games and capturing a bronze medal on bars and beams in the British Championships.
And in 2012, Harrold served as an alternate in the 2012 London games, but the start of her career was in Rio, where she was a part of this year’s Great Britain team and said the experience was “fantastic.”
“It was really cool,” Harrold said about competing in the summer games. “We would have liked to get a medal just because of previous success of our championships. A medal was within our reach. Unfortunately there was a few mistakes, but it’s the Olympic games and we just had to enjoy it.”
The 2016 Rio Olympic games will go down in history for the Great Britain gymnastics team, which was led by Harrold. The five-gymnast squad finished in fifth place in the women’s team competition, which was the best result since 1928 for Great Britain.
The ending of the Rio Olympic games marked the last time Harrold, 20, will compete in elite level competition—she’s embarking on a new journey.
“I feel like I’ve had my time in elite [level competition] and done my things that I wanted to do,” Harrold said.
But the conclusion of her career in elites delayed the start of her life as a student athlete. Harrold stayed through the end of the Olympic games, which ended on Aug. 21, one day before LSU started classes, causing her to miss a few days of school.
“It was all a bit hectic,” Harrold said while laughing. “My head felt like it was going to explode.”
A ‘culture change’
The decision to live a great distance from home wasn’t easy for Harrold.
“I was very hesitant,” Harrold said. “I wasn’t quite sure it wasn’t something I wanted do, because it’s so far away.”
For starters, the sport of gymnastics is much bigger in America than it is in Great Britain, Harrold said. Most of her teammates participated in the sport because it was something they enjoyed.
Harrold recalled two gymnasts from her hometown, Danusia Francis, a senior a UCLA and Rebecca Wing, a former gymnast at Stanford, who made the decision to leave the United Kingdom to compete at a collegiate level in America.
“It’s not really the done thing in the UK. A lot of people stop gymnastics at 18 [years old] and go to British [universities]. It’s nothing compared to this.”
The Academy of Gymnastics, a performance club in Great Britain, was where Harrold spent her last 14 to 15 years training and competing with her coach, Liz Kincaid.
In 2012, Kincaid and Harrold came to a national training camp in Cincinnati, Ohio, which is where the gymnast met LSU’s Breaux.
“We just fell in love with her from the very beginning,” Breaux said.
Harrold kept in touch with Breaux and LSU associate head coach and recruiting coordinator Jay Clark as time went on, but it was Kincaid who persuaded Harrold to take a trip to visit LSU’s campus.
“Soon as I came and visited I knew it was definitely something that appealed to me and the distance didn’t matter anymore,” Harrold said. “I don’t think I would’ve been happier anywhere else.”
A smooth transition
Making the switch from competing at an elite level to college, should be “seamless,” Breaux said. It’s adjusting to academics that will be the main focus for Harrold.
“We want her to focus on academics and getting to school and getting used to being away from home,” Breaux said. “Gymnastically, the transition is going to be seamless.”
Harrold is an addition to an LSU team that returns six All-Americans from a squad that was a national runner-up for a NCAA title. Her “mature demeanor” fits right in with the group’s chemistry, Clark said.
“She’s just very serious-minded,” Clark said. “I think she’s going to be able to provide us a great deal of leadership with that maturity.”
Photo by Greta Jines.