The Farewell Season: Caitlin Brown leaves her mark on ISU gymnastics


Senior Caitlin Brown prepares to finish her routine on the uneven bars.

Kevin Horner

The four years of leadership. The persistent perseverance. The rise to nationals. The all-around success. It seems as if no one is quite ready to bid farewell to ISU senior gymnast Caitlin Brown and the legacy that she has built.

Once dubbed “the worst vaulter in America” by her club coach, the two-time All-Big 12 championship team member has battled and overcome substantial amounts of adversity to arrive at the place of leadership and influence in which she currently resides.

Now having contributed nearly four years to the ISU gymnastics program, generating growth and success, Brown begins to foresee the imminent conclusion of her decorated collegiate career draw nearer and nearer.

“I cannot believe that it’s already my senior year,” Brown said. “I feel like I just walked in the gym for the first time yesterday.”

It was back in the fall of 2011 when then-18-year-old Brown entered the gymnasium at Beyer Hall for the first of what would become countless visits. She was just a freshman from Apple Valley, Minn., the lone representative from her incoming class, unaware of the journey on which she was about to embark.

Brown bore an immediate impact on the ISU gymnastics team, earning the accolade “Team Newcomer of the Year” as a result of her participation and development in three of the four events in all but the opening meet of the year. After making her collegiate debut on the road against Missouri, Brown went on to log scores reaching and even once eclipsing 9.825 in her rookie season. 

Brown may have been the lone ISU gymnast from the class of 2015, but to her teammates and coaches, she possessed the influence of many.

“[Brown] came in as the sole representative of that [freshman] class, which is a very difficult place to be,” said ISU gymnastics coach Jay Ronayne. “Most people wouldn’t have handled with as much grace as she did.”

The young three-event specialist, after exceeding expectations in her inaugural year, was set for a breakout sophomore season.

Enter adversity.

After starting the season competing all-around for the first time in her young collegiate career, just beginning to scratch the surface of a potential breakout year, the physical affliction of the sport took its toll on Brown in the form of a concussion. The injury prevented Brown from competing all-around for the remainder of the year, constraining her to the sidelines for four meets altogether.

It was not until March when Brown began competing in the three events she had encountered the year before, but she maximized her limited opportunities. In the final four meets of that 2012-13 regular season, she managed to surpass her career highs on the beam and floor exercise — registering duplicate scores of 9.875 in both events.

“She has come a long, long way [since her early years],” Ronayne said. “She has traveled a million miles from where she began.”

Fast forward to the present day. A significant junior season for Brown has passed — complete with new career highs in vault and all-around and, more importantly, an appearance at the NCAA Championships in Birmingham, Ala.

It is now 2015 and the regular season is beginning to arrive at its conclusion. Brown, the team captain, has assumed a role of leadership and mentorship that has generated an atmosphere of passion and focus among the ISU gymnasts.

“It’s the intensity — that search for perfection,” Ronayne said. “[Brown’s] presence in the gym helps cultivate the atmosphere that we want in here — to work hard, to stay focused and to get the job done.”

Not only has the two-time Academic All-Big 12 First Team member demonstrated her leadership through consistent performances in competition, but Brown has also fostered an environment of encouragement — reassuring and strengthening her teammates regardless of her current disposition.

It is not difficult to identify Caitlin Brown amidst her ISU teammates at a meet as she is almost always the one leading the sprint toward the teammate who just completed her routine — bubbling with energy and excitement.

“[Brown] is such a hard worker. She picks up everyone when they are down,” said freshman Haylee Young. “She pushes everyone. She cheers for everyone. Even if she is having a bad day, she’s there to be positive for other people. She is everything that I want to be.”

As much as she has given to Iowa State and this gymnastics program, Brown continues to deflect the credit away from herself and onto the people who surrounded her on this four-year progression. 

“Looking back on how much I’ve grown as a person and as a gymnast, I give it all to this program and these coaches and these teammates,” Brown said. “I think I’ve grown and gained more confidence in myself, not just in gymnastics, but in all areas of life.”

Her legacy has been established. Her impact has been felt. Yet, her business remains unfinished.

With several meets remaining on the schedule, including the postseason, Brown intends on extending her career as a Cyclone as far as she can reach.

“She’s still chasing her own perfection,” Ronayne said. “She’s shown the team what it’s like to keep chasing that dream.”