The Wolverine

April 2020

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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APRIL 2020 THE WOLVERINE 69 BY JOHN BORTON L i Li Leung insists she entered Michigan with the emotional ma- turity of a 13-year-old. She left Ann Arbor with the strategic planning of a 30-year-old, followed by achieve- ments unmatched by most at any age. Leung crafted a path that took her from Ann Arbor to Massachusetts to Beijing to London and back to the United States. She fulfilled her dreams of working closely with the Olympics, served as a vice president of the NBA, and for the past year has labored feverishly as the new presi- dent of USA Gymnastics. Her modesty assigns it all to chance. Her résumé begs to differ. "I sit back and consider how lucky I've been to have experienced every- thing," she said. "I honestly don't look at it as, 'Oh, I've accomplished all these things.' "I say I'm so lucky to have experi- enced these things." Her journey began in earnest when she ventured from her native New Jersey to the University of Michigan on a homecoming weekend. The mo- ment she walked into its iconic foot- ball stadium, the sights and sounds overwhelmed her. "I remember the spirit, when I walked into The Big House," Leung recalled. "If you can imagine, some- one who has never been to a large- scale sporting event walking into a ton of maize and blue, all the noise — it was infectious, in terms of the pas- sion. I thought, this is where I want to go to school." That scene, combined with a pow- erful combination of athletics and ac- ademics, won her over. She became a Michigan gymnast, far removed from the individualism of club gymnastics. "It was really nice to start compet- ing for a team, having it being about others and not just yourself," she said. "I remember the camaraderie. "It was a lot of fun. We started the Big Ten dynasty. My freshman year was the first time we had won the Big Ten in 10 years. We won the Big Ten championship all four years. It was a phenomenal experience." The 1991-92 Wolverines did pave the way, for a program that had cap- tured just one Big Ten title previ- ously. Conference Coach of the Year Bev Plocki's team won the champi- onship when Leung was a freshman, sophomore, junior and senior — and 20 of the 24 years thereafter. During Leung's second season in the program, the Big Ten Champion- ships were conducted on the U-M campus. Leung finished second on the balance beam, rooted on by an inspiring home crowd. "We hosted it, and it was another Big Ten championship win," she re- called. "I remember the energy and the intensity of the competitive envi- ronment we were in. "It was held at Crisler at the time, when most of our meets were still held at Cliff Keen Arena. To move onto the big stage at Crisler was a really nice change." The cascade of injuries Leung en- dured wasn't nearly so nice. She lost two months of competition as a freshman with a broken foot. At the end of that year, she tore an Achilles tendon and found herself sidelined for nine more months. She later worked through a herni- ated disc in her back, stress fractures in her legs, and shoulder surgery. Looking back, Leung grasps the positives of even those setbacks. "That's one of the beauties of sport, learning to overcome adversity, find- ing grit and persistence," she said. "Every time I got injured, I was al- ways really focused on, okay, what do I need to do to get back in the gym? What do I need to do to get back to a competitive level of physical ability?" Michigan's medical staff provided the answers, especially Lisa Hass, a senior associate athletic trainer. "Without her, I have to say, my expe- rience at Michigan wouldn't have been as positive," Leung said. "I probably wouldn't have been able to get back to competition level as quickly as I did. "It was about focus and having a support team to get me back to com- petitive shape." Leung noted she eased into a lead- ership role naturally through experi- ence and developing life skills. That's not what sticks her the most, though. More than anything, the team dy- namic dominated. To this day, she remains close with those around her in those days. "We became really, really close as a family," Leung said. "Even today, we have a huge text message chain that all of us get on, and we let everyone know what's going on in each other's lives." There's been plenty going on in Leung's, since she left a trail of team championships and a pair of top-five national finishes back in Ann Arbor. She spent 18 months in the finan- cial industry, but quickly discovered it wasn't her dream. "After a year and a half of that, I re- alized I was miserable," she said. "It was not what I wanted to do at all." So she dove back into athletics, and followed a winding path that eventu- ally took her to China. Leung worked in Michigan's athletic department for a year and a half, then moved to the uni- versity's alumni association, serving as its conduit to the athletic department. She went on to grad school at the University of Massachusetts, a dream of getting involved in the Olympics beginning to stir in her consciousness. She picked up master 's degrees in business and sports management at UMass, while carving out her own path to China, after Beijing earned the right to host the 2008 Olympic Games. "When I did my grad school work As a student, Leung persevered through inju- ries to help U-M to four consecutive Big Ten women's gymnastics titles from 1992-95. PHOTO COURTESY MICHIGAN PHOTOGRAPHY   WHERE ARE THEY NOW? Li Li Leung Sticks The Landing In Life

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