by @LeapTheAtlantic on September 14, 2016

Louise Mercer
Age: 25
Club: Notts
College: Denver

  • Prior to attending the University of Denver in 2008, Louise Mercer trained at Nottingham Gymnastics Club.
  • In 2006 she won vault, bars and the all-around competition at the Rushmoor Rosebowl. She also won all four events plus the all-around at the English Championships and she finished twelfth at the British Championships.
  • Louise graduated Denver with a degree in marketing and a minor psychology and is now working in marketing.

We caught up with Louise Mercer, a former GB national gymnast and Denver Pioneer, to hear all about her NCAA experience and see what she is up to now...

How did you find out about NCAA?
I heard about the opportunity through Nicola Willis who was the first person (I think) who got a scholarship to the States but it was still extremely unheard of when I was approached about it. One of the assistant coaches at Denver came to the British Championships and told me about the opportunity after the comp.

How did you get recruited?
I was recruited at the British Championship, the assistant coach had come to scout the UK talent and I was lucky enough to catch his eye on the day.

Who or what inspired you to go to university in America?
I had honestly never thought about it before I had been recruited, I had always imagined that I would go to Uni in England just like most people I knew. But when I went on my recruiting visit, it just blew me away. It was like English Uni's on steroids- huge sports culture, massive crowds, great education, beautiful campus, loved the team and coaches and the resources and backing for sports were unbelievable , it sounds cliché but it was just like what you see in films.

Why did you choose Denver?
I didn't know anything about Denver before I went for my visit, I was unsure what to expect but as soon as I arrived it just felt right. There were a lot of things that attracted me to Denver...Colorado is beautiful- with over 300 days on sunshine a year, snow in the winter to ski in the mountains, and just overall a beautiful place to live. DU is also a private university so they had great resources, a top ranked business school, and I just clicked with the team straight off the bat. I actually didn't look at any other universities, I was quite overwhelmed by the offer in the first place. In some ways I should have at least done some research on other Universities but I think when something feels right then its meant to be and I wouldn't change it for the world.

What do you see as positives of doing both NCAA gymnastics and elite gymnastics?
I think for me, I had always loved gymnastics, I was a late bloomer and didn't make national squad until 14-15 years old. I think personally I got to the point where I was in the national team but never in that top 5-6 positions so the Olympics and  world championships were a long shot. I think I started to loose my passion for gymnastics by 15-16 but when I moved to the states to compete in the NCAA it had completely re-ignited my passion and drive. I had a great club and great teammates at Notts and definitely made friends for life, but there is something inspiring about being part of a Division I gymnastics programme.

Was it hard living away from home? What was the biggest culture shock?
The first few months- yes definitely! I was still 17 when I moved to Denver and extremely naive. My mum still cooked all my dinners, drove my around, did my washing and I had it pretty easy. When I moved out there, I didn't have any family close, I had to make new friends and just simple things like setting up a new bank account, or setting up your new phone were tasks that were quite daunting. Although in the States they still speak English and are very similar in a lot of ways
to the UK, there is definitely a transition which takes a while to adjust to. But having great teammates, coaches, and other people around you helping you out, it makes it a lot easier.

What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome?
I think the biggest challenge was when I tore the ligaments in my foot my junior year- I was having the best season to date, ranked on floor and only two competitions away from regionals. Some of my best friends were in the year above me and I had to miss their senior night as I was on crutches. It was a tough summer of rehab to get back to competition ready for my senior year but I was back just in time for season starting. I think there are also challenges adapting to new coaching styles, new teammates, new equipment and new schedules so everything is a learning curve but you definitely get used to it.

What do you think the benefits of the NCAA system are vs. university in the UK for athletes?
Opportunities in the UK for high level athletes just don't really exist- especially for gymnastics. I think if you want to keep up an elite level of gymnastics at University then the States is one of the few places that offers both university education and that highly competitive sporting environment. The UK offers a more lower level university team culture but nothing like the resources, backing and almost professional environment that they have set up in the States. You would never get 10,000 people watching you compete at the British championships, let alone universities in the UK.

What is your most memorable experience from your time at Denver?
I think there are two. One of my most memorable experience was when my family had come over to watch me compete and I was anchor on bars. I did the best routine of my life and one judge flashed a 10 and I ended up with a 9.975 and for my family to be there and see me at my best was such an honour. I think another great memory was being team captain when we won our first conference championships, the team was on fire that day and there was so much heart and passion behind the routines... it was a true team victory.

What advice would you give to an incoming freshman?
Give yourself time to settle in, its going to daunting and overwhelming at first but there are so many people around to help you out so just ask! There will be a transition period where you're unsure if you have done the right thing and you'll be missing home but that will pass very quickly. Once you start to get to know the team, make friends and find your feet you wont look back.

How was training different in the US than in elite?
Training was very different, as the scoring system is still based on the perfect 10, you learn to perfect your routines to a degree that you never did in the UK (well at least I didn't) you will find yourself doing a lot more routines and numbers but in a more efficient way. Its a lot more based on doing things well than cramming your routine with tons of difficulty. You will also find that you have strength and conditioning coaches separate from your gym coaches, you will have physio's, nutritionist, psychologists etc so its a full team operation that I wasn't used to back home. The training is tough and intense but when you have awesome teammates by yourself cheering you on and pushing you to be the best you can be then its
all worth it.

Would you recommend the NCAA route to other gymnasts/athletes from the UK?
Absolutely, if you get the opportunity take it! My parents always said, try it for a year and if you hate it then you can come home but once you get settled you will absolutely love it!! Take the risk and chance because
its so rewarding competing in front of thousands and thousands of people.

What did you learn in this unique role as a student-athlete that you don’t think you would have learned elsewhere?
Probably how to manage my time, you will have a jam packed schedule, of uni lectures, team meetings, training, conditioning, weekend events, community events, exams, papers, photo shoots, video shoots, promotional work and of course a social life so it soon teaches you to manage your time!

What degree did you obtain, and do you consider it useful now you have graduated?
I got a BSBA in Marketing and minor in psychology. Yeah I think the degree has been extremely useful and given me the opportunity to get a good marketing job back in the UK which I love.

How would you rate your overall college experience?
Best thing I ever did, wouldn't change it for the world!

Do you think gymnasts in the UK have enough access to information and inspiration in regards to trying to follow the NCAA route?
I think its becoming more and more common but its still a huge step to take. I think we can do a lot more to help educate people on the opportunities and convince them that it is a hugely rewarding opportunity.