May 11, 2001
TEMPE, Ariz. -- At times, it's been hard for Kristin Fanning to hold back the tears.
Four years ago, as a freshman on Arizona State's women's gymnastics team, Fanning was lucky if she made it through a practice without crying. It wasn't the workouts that broke her, nor the classes, or the new hometown.
It wasn't any of those things. Why should it be? The gymnastics she'd done nearly all her life. The curriculum was new, but not intimidating for an already dedicated student. And the hometown, why, she didn't even have to change area codes. She was a local product, right out of Scottsdale's Paradise Valley High.
No, it wasn't the altered parts of Fanning's life that weighed on her, it was the sum of them. On the surface things were familiar, but somehow they had changed.
'I had no idea what to expect of college,' Fanning remembers. 'I didn't know the gymnastics would be as hard as it was. In club you probably practice 30 hours a week, seven hours a day when you are in the gym. I thought college would be easier, that you wouldn't have to work as hard. I got a big wake-up call.
'This was so much harder, and I was a mess being away from home. For a while I cried every night, but that was then. Things are different now.'
Yes, things are different now. Quite so.
A veteran of three NCAA Championships and a three-time Pac-10 All-Academic honoree -- including first-team honors in 2001 -- Fanning is now a 2001 ASU graduate with a pair of majors in business management and real estate.
The intimidated, homesick freshman of four years ago has grown up. Today, she's calm, cool and collected. Now, she's ready for the world.
'Kristin is very motivated,' said teammate and close friend Kim Skinner, who also graduates this spring. 'If she wants something, she'll get it. She'll make it happen. She's just that determined.'
As a freshman, what Fanning wanted more than anything else was to be a leader. For ASU's senior class of 1998, she carried a hefty respect. Their words motivated, their mere walk had an inspirational air about it.
'I was in awe of them,' Fanning said. 'If they said something, that's the way it was. I really looked to up them and that helped push myself to be better.'
Someday, she hoped to walk in the footprints left by leaders of the past. All in good time.
After her emotionally tumultuous freshman year in which she joined the Sun Devil squad midway through the season, Fanning evolved into a regular on ASU's floor exercise lineup as a sophomore.
Her junior season, Fanning increased her productivity on floor, counting toward ASU's team total in all 12 meets, while also contributing on uneven bars - including a career-high 9.9 against rival Arizona -- despite limited appearances.
Entering her senior year, Fanning was undoubtedly a leader, if not for what she did herself on meet nights then certainly for what she did for others during everyday workouts.
Said ASU head coach John Spini, 'I've been here for more than 20 years, and I've had a lot of team leaders, but there haven't been many who stack up to Kristin. She's one of those rare athletes who seems to be able to get more out of others than maybe she could even get out of herself.'
By that standard, Fanning's leadership was extraordinary, because her competitive contributions in 2001 were nothing short of excellent. Scoring on floor in all 12 meets for the second season in a row, Fanning matched or bettered her previous career high of 9.9 four times, including a 9.95 effort in ASU's school record-breaking extravaganza against UA. Only once did she score lower than 9.8, leaving her with a 9.865 average in the exercise that was second only to Laura Moon's 9.896 average on bars.
Paced by Fanning's dynamic competitive presence, the Sun Devils shattered the ASU record books throughout the regular season with six meet totals that ranked among ASU's all-time top-10. More importantly, they landed themselves back in the NCAA Championships for the 16th time after a one-year absence.
To be back at nationals provided thrills for Fanning, but also a new challenge in leadership. Of the Sun Devils' 14-woman roster, seven had yet to compete in the arena of an NCAA Championships.
'It's something we (she and fellow seniors) talked about a lot,' Fanning said. 'We wanted the freshmen and sophomores to know how amazing nationals was going to be so they would want to fight for a title as badly as we did.
'But you really can't explain it, the crowds are so great and the teams are so incredible. All you can really tell them is that it's going to be one of the best experiences of their lives.'
With the season and the school year complete, now it's Fanning who is heading into uncharted territory. What's next? It's hard to say, but it seems the possibilities are endless.
'I see her as a very successful business woman,' Skinner said. 'But she'll continue to workout hard. Who knows? She'll probably be one of those people who does fitness competitions on ESPN. I could see her doing that.'
Of course, much like the way she made the mini-move from Scottsdale to Tempe, there is also the possibility that Fanning won't leave her Sun Devil career too far behind. Next year, as associate head coach Kristen Smyth stays appropriately busy after the birth of her first child in May, Coach Spini hopes Fanning will stay on campus to bolster the coaching staff.
'That's something I'd really look forward to,' Fanning said of coaching. 'I have mixed emotions about leaving gymnastics. I've been doing this since I was four, so it's going to be weird not to be in the gym anymore. I can't lie and say that I won't miss it. But I'm also excited about finishing school and moving on. We'll see.'
Wherever life takes her, the now grizzled Fanning is unlikely to be fazed. She's faced uncertainty before.
'I feel like I've come along way in four years,' Fanning said. 'There were certainly tough times, but I think they only made me stronger. All of this has been beyond my wildest dreams.'
And today's tears are merely ones of accomplishment and pride.
This is the third of four installments saluting the seniors of ASU gymnastics.
By Jason Bellamy
ASU Media Relations