(Photo by BYU Photo)
PROVO, Utah — BYU gymnast Mackenzie Douglas may not have started her college career in Provo, but she has certainly found her home heading into her junior year.
A native of Queen Creek, Ariz., Douglas spent her freshman year competing for San Jose State University. She was excited to compete and lived 10 minutes away from family, but soon learned it wasn’t a good fit.
“As a college it was fine, but the team culture wasn’t what I needed,” Douglas said. “It wasn’t for me.”
Douglas decided to leave San Jose State at the end of the year and if that meant her gymnastics career was over, she was fine with it. After finishing transfer paperwork, Douglas decided she still wanted to compete in the sport — her reasons for leaving San Jose State didn’t have anything to do with quitting gymnastics.
After the 2015 season, Douglas once again started the recruiting process, this time as a college sophomore. Although not a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the owner of BYU, Douglas readily accepted the school's offer.
Raised in a predominantly LDS community, Douglas describes herself as “growing up Mormon without going to church.” She attended youth dances and knew a Saturday-Sunday sleepover would end in going to church. These experiences played a role in her decision to compete at BYU.
“I thought, ‘I’ve grown up around this culture, I’m pretty sure I know what it’s about,’” Douglas said. “Because of my LDS friends growing up, I wasn’t shell-shocked. I can’t say I knew the ins and outs, but I knew enough to manage it.”
She's transitioned well to the culture of BYU, and has even embraced Utah winters. In fact, making snowmen and having snowball fights is the best part of being at BYU, according to Douglas. She also loves the atmosphere.
“I feel like I’m at home.”
Growing up, Douglas had a hard time getting along with her club coaches and teammates. BYU has been a different story.
“I’ve never felt any conflict here,” Douglas said. “Everybody loves you and accepts and loves you for who you are. I’ve never had that before, so that was really neat.”
BYU gymnastics head coach Guard Young noted Douglas’ athleticism. Lots of gymnasts can execute double-tucks and double-pikes on floor, but Douglas does it a foot higher than everybody else.
“I don’t know if she necessarily always felt like she was something special on the athletic playing field, but she is,” Young said. “For so long, she was told, ‘You’re not that good, you’re too tall.’ And that’s not the case because her athleticism sets her apart.”
Douglas’ team contributions were easily seen as a first-year Cougar in 2016. She scored a career-high 9.900 on floor at the Mountain Rim Gymnastics Conference Championships in March and competed in at least two events in all 12 meets of the season. Douglas was also named to the All-MRGC Second Team on vault, bars and floor as a sophomore.
Known to her teammates as “Doug,” teammate and captain Brittni Wilde Hawes described her as loyal and trusting — “you can always count on her.” Douglas also brings a quirky sense of humor to the team.
“Doug brings so many laughs to the gym and she always has a positive attitude,” Wilde Hawes said. “We can always count on her to make us smile.”
Douglas recently posted a video on social media of herself falling on the uneven bars, which was picked up by the official BYU gymnastics Twitter and Facebook accounts. She captioned it with the question, “How’s your Monday going?”
Young said the team loves how Douglas doesn’t take herself too seriously. He sees her story as an example for prospective non-LDS gymnasts at BYU.
“Through some divine intervention, she’s found herself here and she fits right in, even though there isn’t a religious connection,” Young said. “She can show others that you don’t have to be LDS to come to BYU to enjoy it, to fit in, to feel accepted and to get the most out of your college experience.”
Douglas may not adopt the LDS Church’s teachings, but she appreciates this three-year period of life surrounded by it. She enjoys the required religion classes, including the world religions and family history classes she took last year.
“As I learn the details of the religion, I may not believe it,” Douglas said. “But it’s really interesting to see why things work for other people. I really enjoy seeing that side of it.”
The hardest adjustment has been handling people’s surprise when they learn Douglas is not a member of the LDS faith. She typically responds by saying she respects what others believe, sharing her own beliefs and suggesting a compromise. That way, both parties can leave learning something.
Through her journey of coming to BYU, Douglas learned positives can be found in all situations, even when things don’t go as anticipated.
“I’m really glad she found us and that it’s such good fit,” Young said. “I can’t wait to see her shine at the meets because she deserves it. She’s worked hard for it, she deserves to have a good year.”