August 20, 2019 | 81° F

Colombian balances new school, country to excel for RU

Photo by Jeffrey Lazaro |

Freshman Luisa Leal-Restrepo trains for team competition with the Knights and personally with Juan Agudelo as she attempts to qualify for the Olympics for her native Colombia.

For any incoming freshman, college life offers a series of challenges before one feels fully acclimated. For Luisa Leal-Restrepo, the transition has been harder than that of her average classmate.

In addition to being a 17-year-old in a new environment, Leal-Restrepo is an emerging star for the Rutgers gymnastics team with the pressure of Olympic hopes of her own.

Leal-Restrepo was born in Colombia and only lived in the United States for two years. Despite her lack of familiarity with her surroundings, Leal-Restrepo has taken to her new environment well.

Her connection to her new school and the Garden State is aided by the fact that Leal-Restrepo always had Rutgers at the top of her list of schools.

"I've always wanted to come to Rutgers. It's a great school all around," Leal-Restrepo said.

In her first semester at Rutgers, Leal-Restrepo pulled double duty, taking a 16-credit workload and training privately for the Olympics as well as with the Scarlet Knights. Despite all these responsibilities, Leal-Restrepo managed to balance her schedule.

"I love the girls on the team, I love the academics, and I love the campus. I'm really happy here." Leal-Restrepo said. "The only problem is that I miss my family, but I get to talk to them all the time."

With her family still living in her home country, her coaches recognize their responsibilities extend beyond the gymnastics mat.

"I'm like her mother away from home now," said head coach Chrystal Chollet-Norton. "I'm there for her for anything. Then again, I do that for all the girls, especially freshmen. Her mother trusted me and her coach, Juan [Agudelo], with her. Juan and I work hand and hand with her."

Over the past few meets, Leal-Restrepo began to establish herself as one of the most outstanding performers on the team.

At Connecticut on Sunday, Leal-Restrepo finished first in vault, floor exercises, and bars. Her 38.775 was enough to place first in all-around competition. This type of performance is the norm for her, as she finished in the top three in all-around competition in two of her past three meets and regularly sets new career highs in multiple events.

While Leal-Restrepo's performance is not unexpected, Chollet-Norton is happy to see her freshman perform up to her potential.

"She is going to be one of the top athletes at the [East Athletic Gymnastics League] Championships," Chollet-Norton said. "She is working really hard in the gym and doing everything she can to get better."

Going forward, Leal-Restrepo is focused on accomplishing all of her goals, including guiding Rutgers to new heights and making it to the Olympics.

"We want to help her achieve her dream of the Olympics," Chollet-Norton said. "Even with all her other training though, she is fully committed to the team."

Josh Glatt

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