By Rubin E. Grant
When Caroline Leonard’s mother, Missy, signed her up for gymnastics at the age of 4, little did they know that the decision would one day lead to a college scholarship.
Leonard signed a gymnastics scholarship with Auburn last November.
“My mom put me in the class and I immediately had a passion for it,” Leonard said. “It started out I was just doing it for fun. As I got older, I started competing in competitions.”
Actually, Leonard was in the first grade when she started competing. By the time she reached the fourth grade, she had begun competing through Mountain Brook Gymnastics, and she has been there since under the tutelage of Helen Nabors.
Leonard is home-schooled and is finishing her senior year doing online classes through Brook Hills’ Co-op.
Being home-schooled afforded her more time to spend in the gym, doing the sport she loves and enabling her to compete at an advanced level.
She already had reached level 7-8 when she joined Mountain Brook Gymnastics and is now a level 10. At levels 7, 8, 9 and 10, gymnasts are freer and, although the athletes must meet specific requirements, they can create their routines in a unique way. The requirements for the levels are defined according to the difficulty using a letter system, in which A is the easiest ability and E is the most difficult.
The advancement fits in with Leonard’s competitive nature.
“I enjoy challenging myself and making goals,” Leonard said. “The sport has taught me a lot of self-discipline and also how to be part of a team.”
Leonard has 26 individual titles, is a two-time regional qualifier (2016, 2019) and was vault champion at the 2020 Everest Classic. She was the 2019 bars and all-around runner-up at the Alabama state meet and the vault, bars, beam and all-around runner-up at the 2016 state meet. She is a senior elite compulsory qualifier on vault and floor.
“I like the floor and the vault, the power events,” she said. “I love tumbling. It just brings me joy.”
This winter, Leonard has been dealing with a sore knee and has been unable to compete. She hopes to compete later in the season and make it back to the state and regional meets and perhaps make it to nationals, something she’s never done.
Leonard is excited about going to Auburn in the fall.
“I’ve always been an Auburn fan,” she said. “My dad (Luke Leonard) was a cheerleader at Auburn and I’ve gone to a lot of gymnastics meets there.
“When I was trying to choose a college, I toured other schools, but I felt like it was home at Auburn.”
It’s the second consecutive year Mountain Brook Gymnastics has had a gymnast sign with a Southeastern Conference school. Jordan Olszewski, who attended Spain Park, is a freshman at Arkansas. But it’s still a rarity. The only other one in recent times is Brooke Kelly, who signed with Missouri in 2014 and graduated from there in 2019.
“It doesn’t happen too often,” Leonard said. “It’s super exciting for me. It’s been a goal of mine for a long time and it’s taken a lot of hard work and dedication.”
Luke Leonard was pleased that his daughter chose Auburn.
“I am so excited that Caroline is going to Auburn,” he said. “It’s satisfying knowing that her final chapter as a competitive gymnast is going to culminate at such a special place that I love so much.”
Auburn gymnastics coach Jeff Graba was glad to sign Caroline Leonard.
“Caroline is a home-grown talent and has been on our radar for quite some time,” Graba said at the time her signing. “She is a very well-rounded gymnast and could easily contribute on all the events.”