Kim Little is finally a big senior and she's looking to have a big year.
With five gymnasts lost to graduation, the 5-3 Little finds herself riding solo as the only senior of the BYU women's gymnastics team this year. But if you spoke to Little, you would think she didn't know.
"They might look up to me because I'm the oldest, but I'm not the only one who can lead the team," said Little. "There are sophomores and juniors here who people look up to and who can lead the team."
Indeed, Little leads a talented core of underclassmen, which includes returning All-American Kelly Parkinson, but as the only senior on the team and the team captain, Little is the one that others will look to.
"Kim is the team leader this year, and she's taken it better than I expected," said head coach Brad Cattermole. "She's a free-spirit type, but does a good job of really helping the team be focused. This year she has been more of a vocal leader and rallied the team behind her. Her biggest plus is that she's unbelievably tough. She takes a hit and comes back."
Keeping Up Some of that toughness may come from growing up with six other brothers and sisters. Little, from Fremont, California, near San Jose, grew up with two brothers and four sisters.
"Kim learned to read before she went to kindergarten because when she watched her older brother come home from school she wanted to do what he was doing," said Heidi Little, Kim's mother. "So she learned to read. She likes a challenge."
That attitude has carried over to success in gymnastics. In fact, that's how she got started in the sport. At a young age, Little watched her older sister and a friend get started in gymnastics and, of course, she wanted to do that too. Her sister is no longer a gymnast, but Little is now a senior on a college team that finished 11th in the nation last year.
"I started flipping around at home when I was about four or five," Little said. "I just always wanted to be as good as my sister, but then she retired from club and just did high school gymnastics. My goal from then on was to compete in college."
"She's very strong-willed. She's very sensitive, outgoing and compassionate about anything she tackles," said her mother Heidi. "She always strives to do the best of her ability. Kim's philosophy is what's important for the team is important for her. That philosophy carries over to her family life as well. That's how she treats her family. She watches out for the good of the whole."
Like Mother Like Daughter It's ironic that Kim's mother speaks of Little's loyalty to those around her. Little describes her mom the same way.
"My mom went to every single meet I ever had no matter where," Little said. "She's supported me through everything. We used to clean the gym that we worked out in to pay for going to the club. It was mainly my job, but she helped me the whole way through. We all support each other. That's the way my mom wanted it."
The loyalty that Little learned from her mother growing up is still evident to those she is around today.
"She's very loyal and honest," said Denice Pauga, Little's teammate last year. "If something is on her mind, she'll tell you. She's a good friend to talk to."
"Kim is very loyal to her friends," adds Cattermole. "She is a loyal teammate, but also a hard-nosed leader. She has a tough exterior, but inside, she's a real sweetheart."
"She loves BYU and the feeling of team," said Steve Wilken, Little's coach at Cal West Gymnastics Club in California and current assistant coach at San Jose State. "She stuck it out and went through some hard times. She's a survivor."
She may not have won a million bucks for hammock-swinging and coconut-eating on a deserted island in the South Pacific, but Little is definitely a survivor.
The Journey to BYU Originally, Little never imagined coming to BYU. She didn't want to come to BYU for one reason - her dad wanted her to go there.
"I didn't want to come here at all," said Little. "My dad went here and we didn't have the best relationship. I went on a few recruiting trips and was going to commit to another school, but my mom helped me keep my mind open. Then I guess I was compelled. I'm glad I did it now."
"Kim likes the feeling of team. I think she's really liked BYU and the team chemistry they have there," said Wilken.
"Team unity is good this year," Little said. "I love the team unity."
Scripture Superstition Now at BYU, Little has succeeded because of hard workÂŠand maybe a little superstition. You've heard of athletes that only eat a certain food before every game, have a lucky shirt or put a stick of gum in their shoe for good luck. Well, Little has her own superstition - she reads the scriptures before every meet.
"It would help calm my nerves," said Little. "I still do it today. It's kind of my superstition."
Superstitions or not, with the experience she's gained over the last few years, Little has learned how to compete under pressure.
"When she was a freshman, she was very talented," said Cattermole. "But she wasn't very mentally tough, as in competing under pressure when she needed to. All the great ones in the past could hit when they were young, but you never knew when. I think Kim has learned how to do that, hitting when she has to. I've been really impressed on how much she has improved since her freshman year."
"It's taught me how to be a leader and a follower," Little said, of her time spent in gymnastics.
Season Outlook According to coach Cattermole, Little has the ability to score a 9.9 on every event she is in. She is a well-rounded gymnast. She doesn't have an event that stands head and shoulders above the others, and she doesn't have an event that lags behind. If you ask her what her favorite event is, she will start by naming one, but eventually name them all.
"Kim plays the game like it's supposed to be played," Cattermole said. "She is working on getting her mental approach up to the level of her gymnastics. She has a high level of difficulty and she understands that she needs to hit those."
Two Full Years In gymnastics, the team starts practicing in September for a season that doesn't begin until January. And they practice about five hours a day. Over her lifetime, that's roughly about 17,500 hours in the gym, or two full years.
"For the first 18 years I ate, slept, and breathed gymnastics. In college, I have somewhat of a social life," Little said. "Here, it's been good. Club is even harder. You get burned out at the end of the season. Here, at least we get a summer break."
With so much time committed to gymnastics, it's surprising Little has time to do much else. But she also loves to play the piano.
"I've been playing the piano since I was three," Little said. "It's probably my most favorite thing to do. It's kind of my release time."
After spending most of her life in a gym, Little is excited to move on and try something else besides gymnastics.
"I'm excited to do something new with my life," Little said. "I've been drowned with gymnastics. I've always been known as Kim the gymnast. I want to be known as Kim Little."