Junior leads Knights with strong scores
Often described by head coach Louis Levine as one of the best gymnasts in the country, junior Luisa Leal has lived up to that billing in her first healthy season since her freshman year.
Her all-around performance is a key factor in the No. 18 Rutgers gymnastics team’s third 5-0 start in program history and first since 1994.
Leal currently holds the second highest all-around average in the Northeast region and 20th best in the country, with a 39.200 in Monday’s most recent rankings. She tied for 23rd on the floor, with a 9.875 average.
“[Leal brings] confidence and experience. She’s very calm, cool and collected on the outside,” Levine said. “She’ll tell you that she’s a mess inside, but you would never know. She really is our rock.”
In the season opener Jan. 11 against New Hampshire, her 9.900 on the floor was the meet’s highest in any event. She also tied for first on the vault and tied for second on the bars.
In a quad meet at Kent State, Leal received another 9.900 on the floor, which tied her for first out of 24 gymnasts. Just two days later, she topped her season-high, all-around score at Ohio State with a 39.250 and finished at least tied for second in every event but the beam.
While her numbers are impressive on their own, her ability to compete at a high level after major injuries only adds to her performance. The winter following her EAGL Rookie of the Year campaign in 2011, she was diagnosed with Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, a chronic heart disease.
Two surgeries later, she competed again before experiencing symptoms in the second meet of her sophomore season. Sidelined for the rest of the season after redshirting, Leal’s doctors would not even allow her to condition for the next six months.
The following winter she was back in the gym before yet another setback. Before the season began she fell off a balance beam, which led to a broken foot and sprained neck.
“Everything that happened with my heart and me breaking my foot, and what happened to my neck has only showed me that every single day I’ve been in the gym has been a day that I have to appreciate,” Leal said.
When she speaks of the injuries now, one can hear the determination she used to come back when many others would not have.
“After everything that has happened through the injuries, I really appreciate what I’ve did and the time spent in the gym,” she said. “I love what I do and yes, maybe it’s upsetting, but I also appreciate it because it makes me love the sport even more.”
It impressed Levine.
“It’s a testament to her caliber in gymnastics and constantly being ready to go whenever the time comes,” Levine said.
The Cali, Colombia, native has also spent time competing with her national team, with an eye on the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
“There’s nothing like representing your own country,” she said. “Being on the international team puts a lot of pressure on you because people are relying on you when you’re wearing your country’s colors. Competing for my country has definitely helped me at Rutgers.”
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