UTAH UTES

Two Red Rocks Give Utah Gymnastics Fans A Look Between Dumke Banners

Apr 8, 2024, 11:31 AM

SALT LAKE CITY – Abby Paulson and Makenna Smith have been key players for the Red Rocks the past few seasons and now they are giving fans a peak behind all of the banners that line the Dumke Center.

During the offseason, Paulson and Smith teamed up to come up with a podcast concept that allows fans to get a taste of the athletes’ lives as Utah gymnasts, as well as the people they are off the competition floor.

The socially aware gymnasts also use “Between the Banners” to dive into topics they are passionate about including women’s rights, eating disorders, and many other topics women and athletes face on a day-to-day basis.

 

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Creating ‘Between The Banners’

Paulson says the idea came about after she and Makenna were approached about doing a podcast. Initially the two joked about the idea, but the more they talked, the more it seemed like a good idea that could do well.

“The company reached out to us on Influencer- a platform all of us student athletes here at the U use for photos from meets and games, but you can also connect with different companies,” Paulson said. “They sent out a message- I don’t know who all they sent it to but Makenna and I both got the message, and we actually live together. I like to talk, she likes to talk, and we’ve got a lot of ideas- I’m a very outspoken person. I have a lot of opinions and feelings and I’m not afraid to share those. She is also kind of that way too.”

The Premise Of ‘Between The Banners’ Is Born

Smith and Paulson are both very passionate about giving women in sports a voice and platform to be heard, which is where their main focus on the podcast lies.

“We really want to bring a voice to women in sports,” Smith said. “Give a behind the scenes of what it is like to be a student-athlete. You see us on TV all of the time, or you see the little snippets that are on social media, but you don’t really know about our lives behind the scenes- what we are feeling, those kinds of things. We also wanted to talk to some very amazing women in sports and empower women.”

 

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A post shared by Makenna Smith💕 (@makenna_smith04)

So far, Paulson and Smith have released seven episodes that have featured the likes of future Red Rock Avery Neff, former Oklahoma Sooner Olivia Trautman, and Meredith Price who is over Utah’s nutrition and athletic science department in an effort to share a variety of experiences women who work in and compete in sports have.

Paulson and Smith have also dived into the tougher aspects of their sport and being women who compete- including body image and eating disorders as well as dealing with internet trolls (fondly referred to as the gymternet) that rarely have anything nice to say.

 

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“The goal is to lift up women’s voices in sports,” Paulson said. “A lot of times they are overlooked- it’s an area that is a very male-dominated field. A lot of times they are the ones making money, they are the ones who have the big names. Baseball, football, hockey, basketball- our goal is to uplift women in sports- whatever that may be.”

More Than Sparkles And Makeup

Much like football where the athletes are covered head-to-foot in protective armor giving the sport a “performative” quality, gymnasts face a similar kind of judgment, only with sparkles, makeup, and bubbly personalities.

“That’s the goal,” Paulson said. “That’s why we called it ‘Between the Banners’- the name comes from the fact we have all of our Pac-12 banners, and our National Championship banners hanging in the gym. Everyone watches on TV, and they see our gymnastics, and the persona we put forward, but they don’t know what goes into all of that. Who we are as people. What we do for school, or what our hobbies are. The transition out of sport afterwards. They see four, five, maybe six years of someone’s career on TV, and then know nothing else about them. That was honestly the whole goal behind all of it- to show the ups and downs, and everything that goes into being a student-athlete, and post-athlete.”

 

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A post shared by Abby Paulson (@abby.paulson)

For Smith, it was a goal of hers in her second season as a Red Rock to showcase her personality more while performing. The podcast has been a helpful tool for Smith in connecting the dots between her life inside and outside of the gym.

“I feel like I’ve focused on this year, even like, out on the competition floor just showing who I really am,” Smith said. “I’m not afraid to be who I am. That’s not a big deal. It’s really awesome to be able to see that. Also being able to talk about some of our behind-the-scenes stuff- talking about who we are and our back stories. It’s just been really fun, and really exciting to be able to share those stories. Then hearing back from people that they love being able to see that side of us. Hear our thoughts on things. It’s really cool, and heartwarming that other people are enjoying it as much as we are.”

 

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A post shared by Makenna Smith💕 (@makenna_smith04)

Abby Paulson, Makenna Smith Connecting On Strong Male Influences

Just because Paulson and Smith are focused on bringing light to women in sports, doesn’t mean they don’t appreciate the male influences in their lives that have pushed them to be great.

Much of Paulson’s competitiveness stems from her dad, Brandon, who earned a silver medal in the 1996 Olympics in Grecko-Roman wrestling. She also noted powerful female influences- primarily head coach Carly Dockendorf have also played a role in her empowerment as a woman and athlete.

 

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“My dad, whether it was intentional or not was like, ‘you’re a strong woman, use your voice, use your power, use your influence'” Paulson said. “That’s what he was always told. Why would he tell me anything differently? He definitely raised me to have that perspective, and outlook, which I think does benefit me. That doesn’t mean if you have a powerful woman in your life, she can’t do the same thing. I think Carly does a great job helping to empower us and giving us a voice.”

Smith on the other hand grew up competing in a primarily male gym in New Mexico- the same one that yielded former Red Rock Tory Wilson and said the expectations for her were always the same as her male counterparts.

“My coach was very much like, ‘you can advocate for yourself’- if there is something you think we can fix in the gym, him and I would talk about it,” Smith said. “I felt like I could come up to him and be like, ‘hey, this is what is going on’. There was never the expectation that a woman can’t do this. It was very much- the boys did it, you can do it too. I think that really helped me and I think it’s a really cool thing that he instilled that in me.”

 

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A post shared by Makenna Smith💕 (@makenna_smith04)

The Future Of ‘Between The Banners’

As a senior, Paulson’s time with the Red Rocks is dwindling down, but she still intends to do the podcast with Smith in an effort to highlight her transition from an athlete to a law student. Meanwhile, Smith will be transitioning from an underclassman to an upperclassman for Utah gymnastics which is one more aspect the pair wants to showcase.

“We are planning on continuing it,” Paulson said. “That was one of the things we discussed from the beginning. I think it’s something cool to highlight- at least, a lot of my friends who have recently graduated have said they have struggled transitioning from being a student-athlete to finding their place in the world. It will be something we talk about in the podcast going forward. Just highlighting we are human. We do have feelings, emotions, and we aren’t these people you see on TV that smile all the time, and hit their routine, and are constantly bubbly. After gymnastics- I don’t know exactly what I’m going to be doing with my life. I might be going through a lot of things- the podcast is going to give us the space to talk about that.”

 

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Smith noted a lot of times the transition from being an athlete to not being an athlete is only talked about after the process is complete, not during it. She is hopeful following Paulson’s journey out of competitive athletics will be helpful to other athletes who listen.

“They talk about once they have already passed the struggle,” Smith said. “Our goal is to talk about during the struggle- you’re in the real world. The real world isn’t always as nice as you’d like to think it is. I think it will be really cool to learn about Abby’s journey- her leaving the sport and what her life is like outside of it while also still touching in on what I’m doing. I think it will be really cool to have the differing perspectives on where we are both at in our lives.”

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 XInstagram, and Threads: @BodkinKSLsports

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Two Red Rocks Give Utah Gymnastics Fans A Look Between Dumke Banners