Kelly Parkinson-Evanson

It all started in a New Jersey backyard.

Kelly Parkinson-Evanson would imitate her older sisters, Holly and Christy, as they would practice their gymnastics routines in the backyard. That's how Kelly Parkinson-Evanson's stellar gymnastics career began.

Holly went on to become a professional tennis player, where she consistently ranks in the top 100 of the Women's Tennis Association, but those backyard gymnastics lessons helped the younger Kelly to develop into one of the best college gymnasts in America.

In her three years at BYU, Parkinson-Evanson has been rewriting the BYU women's gymnastics record books. Amazingly, Parkinson-Evanson has 19 scores that rank in the top ten all-time for bars, vault, floor, and all-around at BYU, including four school records.

Parkinson-Evanson's competitive spirit has helped her to excel in gymnastics. As a sophomore and again as a junior, Parkinson-Evanson earned All-American status for the Cougars. In that same year she broke the record in the all-around competition with a 39.550, a record she would break or tie three more times the following year as a junior. Parkinson-Evanson currently holds the top six scores in the all-around competition.

"She doesn't like to lose," said BYU head coach Brad Cattermole. "She has an unbelievably tough head. Nothing rattles her. That's why she is so good, she hits when she needs to hit. She is mentally tough."

Parkinson-Evanson is a senior for the Cougars this year, but leading the team is nothing new for her. Parkinson-Evanson has been the anchor of the team in every event since she was a sophomore. In 2001 she scored the team high in every event except the beam and floor. She also competed in the all-around competition in 11 of 12 meets last year, scoring above a 39.000 in every meet and above a 39.500 five different times, including a school record of 39.625 in her last two regular-season meets of the year.

Her route to become the most prolific gymnast in BYU history almost got lost in the Parkinson-Evanson's life in New Jersey. In an athletic family that included five girls and two boys, Kelly nearly quit the strenuous schedule that is the life of a club gymnast.

"My parents were great supporters," said Parkinson-Evanson. "They never pushed me, but when I was depressed they would encourage me."

When Kelly was still young, the Parkinson's moved from New Jersey to Houston, where Kelly joined a gymnastics club called Cypress. If the Parkinson-Evanson family hadn't made the move, Kelly admits that she would probably not still be a gymnast.

"If I hadn't moved to Texas and gone to Cypress, I wouldn't have kept at it," Parkinson-Evanson said. "There were so many girls that were good there, I was in awe. Half of Georgia's team came from Cypress, other girls went to Stanford, Alabama and Arizona State. None went to Utah. The coaches were very strict in workouts, but it paid off."

To help put the quality of Cypress into perspective, those gymnasts went to schools that took three of the six No. 1 seeds and one No. 2 seed in Regionals last spring (Stanford, Alabama and Georgia -- Arizona State was a No. 2 seed).

In high school, Parkinson-Evanson almost spent more time practicing than she did sleeping. Gymnastics is a sport that requires an extraordinary amount of time in the gym, practicing the routines again and again.

"With the time I put in practicing in high school, I realized that if you weren't in it for yourself, you wouldn't be successful," said Parkinson-Evanson. "It takes a strong work ethic and you have to learn how to be efficient. I put the time in in high school, some girls are trying to make up for that time when they get to college."

Those attributes of hard work and efficiency are still displayed by Parkinson-Evanson in the gym.

"In work-outs, she is by far the most efficient," said Cattermole, of his top gymnast. "She does the job and moves on. She sets to do something and she does it."

Something else Parkinson-Evanson has just done is get married. Last August she married Rich Evanson, a BYU cross country runner, joining Karen Froerer and Jennifer Lopez as the team's only married gymnasts.

"I'll be here in Provo for a little while," said Parkinson-Evanson. "He's going to medical school."

Being in Provo for an extended period of time is not something Parkinson-Evanson originally anticipated happening. Before her trip to BYU, she visited the University of Utah and loved its gymnastics program, but family ties, among other things, motivated Parkinson-Evanson to come to BYU.

"I've known Brad (Cattermole) since I was little, but I loved Utah when I lived back East," said Parkinson-Evanson. "After my trip to Utah, I loved their gymnastics program, but I didn't want gymnastics to be my life. Plus, both my older sisters were here at BYU."

Fortunately for Parkinson-Evanson, becoming a Cougar was a good fit - for her and for BYU.

"I love it here. The whole group is fun to be with," said Parkinson-Evanson. "School is hard and frustrating sometimes, but the social atmosphere is fun. I've had a good time here."

With all the time that Parkinson-Evanson has devoted to gymnastics, it has paid some dividends. When Parkinson-Evanson made the national team in high school, she got the chance to travel to Italy, Guatemala and Australia.

"It was a great experience," said Parkinson-Evanson. "In Guatemala we competed in some warehouse. It was an interesting trip. The goal of most girls in high school was to make the national team. People always asked, 'Are you going to go to the Olympics?'"

After a disappointing end to the Cougars' record-setting season last year, Parkinson-Evanson is ready to come back in her senior year and help the team qualify for Nationals.

"I was really happy with my season last year, I didn't have any major falls" said Parkinson-Evanson. "But I was disappointed with my fall at Nationals. Next year I want to help the team become more consistent. I think I'll feel like more of a team leader. Jeni (Lopez) and I will try and do our best. I want the underclassmen to feel like we work hard this year."

One of the reasons Parkinson-Evanson decided to attend BYU was the chance to have a life outside of gymnastics - a difficult feat to accomplish when five hours a day are spent in the gym practicing in September for a season that doesn't even start until January. That's five hours a day on top of hours spent in class, doing school projects, being involved in church and, dare we say, a social life.

But, somehow, Parkinson-Evanson has found another talent - juggling. She has managed to juggle classes, church, school work, family and, not to mention, a new husband. Meanwhile, in her spare time, she has become one of the best collegiate gymnasts in America.

"I really like it," said Parkinson-Evanson. "But I'm ready to be done."