Hansen: a natural-born leader

S-Hailee Hansen-cropped Colby Patterson
Hailee Hansen competes on the bars at the Deseret First Duel last week at the Huntsman Center. Photo by Brent Uberty.

Hailee Hansen competes on the bars at the Deseret First Duel last week at the Huntsman Center. Photo by Brent Uberty.

As one of the top gymnastics programs in the nation, Utah doesn’t often bring in local walk-ons, since coaches are able to attract the cream of the crop around the country.

Senior Hailee Hansen didn’t let that idea sway her from wanting to join the Red Rocks, and now, as a senior, she is looking to build on a résumé that already includes being named an All-American and team captain. That latter honor is one that had previously never been bestowed upon a walk-on at Utah.

In the beginning it didn’t appear Hansen would take up gymnastics, a sport in which getting started early in life is just about an absolute must for success. Rather, Hansen was into dance, and even played for a boys’ baseball team. When she was 10, her parents put her in gymnastics, and she was immediately hooked.

“When my parents put me in gymnastics, I kind of just had that natural talent for it even though I started late,” Hansen said. “I fell in love with it.”

As Hansen reached her high school years, she started to be recruited by some schools but wasn’t too sought after. It didn’t help her cause that she was injured throughout this time, but her mother had recorded some of her meets, which she sent to college coaches.

Hansen eventually received some scholarship offers, but she had her sights set on Utah even though no offer had come from the Red Rocks. Coming to Utah without a scholarship was a gamble, but one she felt she had to take.

“I’ve always loved Utah gymnastics,” Hansen said. “I’ve said this before, but I always thought the girls were robots. I thought they were amazing and that they couldn’t do anything wrong. I was always naïve about the recruiting process. I did go on other trips and visited other schools, but when I came [to Utah], it surpassed everywhere else. The best trip I went on. The girls all came up to me, and the coaches were amazing, and I just fell in love with this program.”

Even still, coaches weren’t going to let Hansen walk on if they didn’t feel she could make an impact. She proved herself to be a natural swinger on bars and was put into the lineup as a freshman. She has been a contributor there since.

“First off, she worked as hard, if not harder, than anyone on scholarship,” said co-head coach Megan Marsden. “That’s a really good way to come in as a walk-on, to just show that you want to be an equal within the group in terms of respect for your gymnastics. She works so hard on her events and has improved tremendously. She’s a kid who’s earned the respect of the group quickly by her work ethic and devotion to the program.”

Although gymnastics is very much an individual sport that is adapted to be a team one on the college level, Hansen’s teammates said the senior is much more interested in the group’s success than her own.

“Hailee was a sophomore when I came in as a freshman and even in those three years that I’ve known her, I’ve seen her grow a lot,” said junior Georgia Dabritz. “Not just gymnastics-wise, but also maturity-wise and leadership-wise. She has really taken a hold of this team the past two years and really stepped up in that leadership position, which is what we’ve needed these past two seasons.”

The only freshman on this year’s squad, Baely Rowe, reiterated the leadership qualities that everyone sees in Hansen.

“Hailee is a great person,” Rowe said. “She is such a great leader, and she has helped me out through a lot of things like becoming a collegiate athlete and gymnast. She’s just a great leader.”

Hansen has more than exceeded expectations in her career as a Red Rock. She received academic All-American honors last season as a junior while serving as a team captain.

“Hopefully she won’t get embarrassed by this, but I always get emotional when I watch her compete,” said her mother, Cori Gyuro. “Words can’t even describe. Every time I see her go out there and they call her name, I just cry every time because it is such an honor to be able to watch her be a part of this program. I never doubted her and always thought she was great, but I still can’t believe that she is here.”

As a senior, Hansen has been forced to think a little bit about her life after gymnastics. While majoring in mass communication and sporting a 3.958 cumulative GPA, she is still not too sure about what her future holds, but she knows she will miss her team more than anything when this season is over.

“That is a difficult thing because I think I am going to have an identity crisis,” Hansen said. “This has been my life. I am really passionate about this sport and this team. I love the girls and the coaches so much. I put everything into this, and I’m just really honored to be part of this program. Everyone here is amazing.”

g.adams@chronicle.utah.edu