Empowered Red Rocks Talk About Importance Of International Women’s Day
SALT LAKE CITY – There are few collegiate women’s sports teams as empowered as the Red Rocks and that is largely thanks to forefather Greg Marsden and his tenacious work in the 1970s and ’80s to have his team promoted the same way men’s teams were.
The hard work paid off and Utah gymnastics has been a force ever since for the Utes having 10 National Titles to their name and being the only collegiate gymnastics team to make all 46 National Championships since their creation.
KSL Sports sat and talked with current Red Rocks Abby Paulson, Abby Brenner, and Jillian Hoffman about the importance of empowering women in sports, being part of a team with the long history of supporting their female student-athletes, and why International Women’s Day is so important.
These talented women, along with other members of the @UtahGymnastics team, broke barriers and inspired others to do the same. It was my privilege to work along side them and witness firsthand their strength and determination both as athletes and beyond. #InternationalWomensDay pic.twitter.com/oonPaVuoX9
— Greg Marsden (@UtahMarz) March 8, 2023
Appreciating The Value Of Utah Gymnastics
Paulson, Brenner, and Hoffman were all about junior high age when they were starting to make decisions about what college they wanted to attend to extend their gymnastics careers. Obviously, being that young in the recruitment process, they weren’t necessarily thinking about where they would be most empowered to be great but have since come to appreciate the history of excellence the Red Rocks provides.
“I was 14 or 15 when I was looking at Utah,” Paulson said. “I didn’t really think about things like that, but I did know that Utah was my dream program because we have generations of national champs. Now being here, I can see how much they empower women and how much we use our women coaches as role models for us and how we have a platform to support other women in sports across the country.”
“I was really young, so I didn’t really know what I wanted,” Hoffman echoed. “I knew that Utah was a good fit and the support they gave off from my first visit to when I actually committed was truly amazing and I couldn’t be more grateful.”
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Brenner’s experience looking into Utah was a little different than Paulson’s or Hoffman’s since she was older and a grad-transfer from Michigan. Brenner noted as she was looking for her next landing spot to finish out her collegiate career that she meticulously researched schools and their support of women’s athletics and didn’t find anyone who did it better than Utah.
“My undergrad is in sports marketing,” Brenner said. “I did multiple projects looking into women’s sports. Analytics stuff when it came to March Madness and women’s sports and when it came to Utah gymnastics and how they can sellout a crowd at the Huntsman over their men’s basketball team. I thought it was so fascinating to find a program that has marketing and an athletic department that allocates resources to women’s sports and seeing how successful it is when you pour in resources to women’s sports.”
The Importance Of Role Models, Support Systems
Paulson’s role model growing up was her dad who won the silver medal in the 1996 Olympics in Greco-Roman wrestling. Paulson also credits her club coaches for showing her how powerful women can be and the importance of being a good person outside of being an athlete.
“He has been very influential in my career,” Paulson said of her dad. “He was an Olympic silver medalist, so obviously he is very sports oriented but also knew that I could achieve a lot of great things if I just put my mind to it. My coaches in club were the same. I’m so grateful for everything they did for me. They made me the woman that I am today, and they taught me I always have strong women to look up to. Most of my coaching staff were women and they were always so supportive of everything we did and wanted us to be the best women we could be as people before athletes. I think that is a really important thing.”
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Growing up, Brenner says she always wanted to be a Michigan gymnast partially due to one of their athletes, Kelsey Knutson. Brenner had the opportunity to meet Knutson when she was younger, and they have kept in touch ever since.
“Funny enough, she was a beam gymnast- that was her specialty,” Brenner said. “I used to love beam and now that is the one event that I do not do and do not love. I followed her, wrote her a letter when I was a little girl, and she wrote me back. I ended up getting her locker at the University of Michigan and she’s now kind of a mentor for me. She went to law school and now we’re talking about career stuff and after-gymnastics life. She’s been such a great mentor.”
Hoffman’s role model was also a gymnast and an Olympian who is now a broadcaster in Shawn Johnson.
“She was very powerful, very sharp,” Hoffman said. “She was a great gymnast, so I always looked up to her.”
Why Having Good Male, Female Support Matters
All three gymnasts noted the importance of having good men back them up whether it’s been their fathers, coaches, or administration. Paulson, and Hoffman specifically noted the value of having male support around them and how it helps to break down barriers.
“Both my dad and Tom [Farden] are very good about that sort of thing,” Paulson said. “They always mention having a lot of women role models to look up to and to take advantage of that. They are very good about encouraging young women to follow their dreams. Tom obviously works in a women’s sport, but my dad works with men, but has one of the first National Champs for wrestling for women. He had the first girl to make Boy’s State in Minnesota and then this past weekend one of his wrestlers was the first girl to win a match in Boy’s State. They both have played a role in furthering women’s sports and acknowledge how important that is to grow that side of things. Women are just as important as men and have the strength and ability that they do.”
“I had male coaches as well in club,” Hoffman added. “I was used to working with a male coach and it’s nice to have both perspectives. Obviously, you have the hard, tough side and then you have the emotional and supportive side which is really nice. We get that from Carly and Mya as well so it’s a good mix of both I’d say.”
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For Brenner, part of coming to Utah was about setting up her future. On top of competing in three events for the Red Rocks, Brenner has been holding meetings with various Utah Athletics staff members including Charmelle Green and Athletic Director Mark Harlan. Brenner has been particularly impressed with how those at the top of the food chain within the athletics department- male or female, have been so willing to take her under their wing and prepare her for working in athletics.
“Within 24 hours- I think Mark was like two hours, emailed me back right away and said they would absolutely love to meet with me,” Brenner said. “I think that is just such an amazing opportunity because coming from an athletic department like Michigan, that was never an opportunity for me so being able to pick their brains and talk about athletic administration and how they got to where they are- Charmelle was a softball player here at Utah so it really is cool to see how she got from being a softball player, being a female athlete here to her role as an athletic administrator.”
Paying It Forward, Being The Example
Paulson, Brenner, and Hoffman are all in on the need to “pay it forward” now that they have platforms of their own. All three realize the how having positive influences in their lives at a young age helped shape them and want to do the same for the next generation coming up.
“I know that all of the little girls are looking up to us,” Hoffman said. “We try to interact with them, sign their autographs. I know how important that is to them. I want to make sure their dreams are coming true. I got to meet Shawn Johnson and so for them to meet us- it’s not the same level, but it’s a step to having their dreams come true.”
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Hoffman’s dream is to become a nurse and she has been actively saving all of her NIL money to pursue nursing school now that gymnastics is wrapping up for her. Hoffman’s hope is that anyone watching knows that it’s all about identifying what you want to do and being diligent in doing whatever you can to get there.
“I think you have to think about the opportunities you are given and be thankful for each and every one of them,” Hoffman said. “Honestly, Tom [Farden] always says to use our money wisely. By saving it, it’s not only going to help me now, but it’s going to help me in the future. Take it one step at a time and just know what your end goal is and make it happen.”
Brenner is hoping to stay in Utah and use her voice to help continue improving Utah Athletics’ efforts towards promoting and inspiring the next generation. Brenner also revealed she hopes one day her start with the Utes will parlay into becoming an athletic director somewhere.
“I’m in the process of interviewing for a job with Learfield and Utah Athletics right now,” Brenner said. “Fingers crossed all goes well- I should be staying here in Utah and working as a partnership coordinator, so being a liaison between the athletic department and some of these major companies that want to sponsor and partner with Utah Athletics. That’s my first step into athletic administration and I think I really want to go into athletic directing one day.”
Paulson is also very goal oriented and very outspoken about issues surrounding women. While she has one more year before her gymnastics career is over, Paulson is already actively getting involved with nonprofits and has a campaign coming out today with Winning Way Foundation called “Herstory in the Making”.
Happy womens history month! To celebrate, I’m teaming up with Winning Way Foundation’s “HERstory in the making” campaign! All donations go directly to supporting the growth of women’s sports and opportunities for girls! https://t.co/ciqaEFSGpQ @WinningWayFund
— Abby Paulson (@AbbyPaulson) March 2, 2023
“I want to do nonprofit-based work or community based to make a difference somewhere in somebody’s life,” Paulson said of how she’s using her platform. “I’m not really sure what that is going to be yet, but I am already working with some foundations. This last year I worked with a pediatric cancer foundation and for March- Women’s History Month and specifically for International Women’s Day, I am working with a foundation supporting women and girls in sports. It’s a fundraising campaign and we’ll be fundraising for women’s sports and all the proceeds will go toward that and helping girls who may not be able to do sports to participate.”
Paulson finished by noting how lucky she is to have a platform that can reach so many people and be a positive influence back into the community that has supported her.
“Not a lot of people have that opportunity,” Paulson said. “To me, it gives me a voice. I’ve always had a lot of opinions and feelings and very passionate about a lot of things, so being able to take advantage of the platform I have has been a really awesome opportunity. I want to do the most that I can with that for the future and to help other generations of girls.”
Michelle Bodkin is the Utah Utes Insider for KSLsports.com and host of both the Crimson Corner Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and The Saturday Show (Saturday from 10 a.m.–12 p.m.) on The KSL Sports Zone. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram: @BodkinKSLsports
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