Driving For Three
Dec. 31, 2008
By Larry Watts
A common sight at a Penn State women's gymnastics practice is junior Brandi Personett rushing in at the last minute still wearing her nursing scrubs.
"I get kidded about that a lot," she says with a laugh. "They're Penn State blue, of course. I'm so busy, I just don't have a chance to change."
But when it comes to operating on the gymnastics floor, there's no kidding about what Personett brings to the Nittany Lions program. The Liberty, Mo. native has already pocketed two Big Ten all-around and vault championships, a floor exercise title last year and earned All-America status by placing a surprising fifth on the balance beam during last year's NCAA Championships.
"That fifth on beam was a total shock," Personett says. "Floor exercise and vault are my best events and I was sitting in the stands bummed out because I hadn't done as well as expected. I tried a new maneuver on my floor ex -- a full twist with a double layout -- which not many people were able to do. But I put my hand down and got a big deduction.
"I was sitting in the stands with my parents and one of them said, 'Your beam score is holding up (for advancement to the finals).' I couldn't believe it because I had struggled on the beam so much during the year. I think I fell off the first four or five meets we had."
Personett attributes much of her success at last year's nationals to the fact former teammate Lindsay Borkan accompanied her on the trip.
"I went out there by myself as a freshman and it was very depressing," she says. "I was used to having a team with me. I just needed that reminder that I really wasn't by myself and I was actually competing for the team and Penn State.
"Lindsay was just fantastic. She came to all my practices and was always encouraging me. She even bought us matching outfits. She was the perfect companion and she really sacrificed because she had to take some tests early and hand in a paper early in order to spend that week with me."
Personett's success story at Penn State should come as no surprise. At one time, she trained for three years at the Elite level at the Champion Gymnastics Academy in Katy, Texas.
"My parents moved the entire family (including older sister Lindsey and older brother Kenny) so I could compete in gymnastics," she says. "My dad was a manager at Hallmark Cards and he found a new job as president of a printing company and my mother is a teacher. They really sacrificed for my gymnastics career."
A torn Achilles tendon eventually put her on a different gymnastics path, one that would lead her to Penn State.
"At that point, I only had a year left before I went to college, so I decided to try Level 10 gymnastics," she says. "That injury turned out to be such a blessing because I had so much fun competing at Level 10. It was less stressful and I was a happier person."
The fact she was having fun in the sport was a prime reason she landed at Penn State. Her college visit list included Oklahoma, Michigan, Utah, Penn State and Alabama. But after her visit to State College, she canceled plans to visit Alabama.
"I knew Penn State was the place for me," she says. "When I met the team and coaches, it was such a family atmosphere. Penn State has all this tradition (football is really insane), the campus is gorgeous and I was really impressed with the academics.
"I knew I didn't want to go to a school that was a gymnastics power, where it would be a disappointment if you didn't win. I wanted to be part of a rising program, a place where I could help it get better."
At 4-foot-11, Personett admits she does take a bit of teasing about being the closest to the ground of all her teammates.
"I went to the doctor the other day and I measured 4-10