Cameras followed around new Gym Dogs head coach, Courtney Kupets Carter, during her chaotic first day on the job.
May 10, 2017
By John Frierson
UGAAA Staff Writer
When you're about to sit down for a Q&A with new Georgia gymnastics coach Courtney Kupets Carter, who better to mine for some ideas than Kupets Carter's former coach, and now her volunteer assistant, Suzanne Yoculan Leebern?
Kupets Carter, who may be the greatest Georgia student-athlete and NCAA gymnast ever, competed for Yoculan Leebern and the Gymdogs from 2006-09, helping the team to four NCAA team titles and winning nine individual titles. There may be a more accomplished player-coach combo in history, but there can't be many.
On Tuesday afternoon, Kupets Carter was introduced as Georgia's new gymnastics coach, and she announced that Yoculan Leebern was coming out of retirement -- to a degree -- to help get the Gymdogs back to the top of the sport. The months and years ahead should be fascinating to follow.
Armed with a couple of ideas courtesy of her volunteer assistant coach, I sat down for a quick chat with Kupets Carter in the Suzanne Yoculan Gymnastics Center on Wednesday morning. Here's some of what she had to say:
Frierson: I asked Suzanne for a couple of questions I should ask you, since she knows you about as well as anyone. What can you tell me about the boxing gloves? I literally have no more information than those words: boxing gloves.
Kupets Carter: We actually got those because we were a great team back in the day, but there were times when we felt the energy kind of deflate; we felt, "where are we going?" and kind of tired. I was a senior in 2009 and I was kind of like, what can we do to get the team riled up?
We always had something going on, just to distract ourselves, honestly. I wanted to be like fighters, you know, we're coming in and we're going to put up a fight. We actually got these boxing gloves and we walked down the stairs in Stegeman Coliseum to actually get to the meet, which was pretty fun. I'm sure it was ridiculous looking, but we had a blast. ...
It was just a fun thing to distract yourself from gymnastics. Sometimes the funny things are the best way to help the athletes get back to where they need to go and focus.
Frierson: How would you characterize the past 24 or 36 hours of your life? Was any of it about what you expected?
Kupets Carter: I don't even know what I expected, honestly. It has been a pretty busy couple of weeks, just with the whole process and taking it all in and realizing, it's work time now. And learning all the different aspects and meeting all the new people and doing all the media.
In a way I'm used to some of that, but at the same time I know there's a bigger task at hand, so I think my mind's just constantly staying on that right now and what I need to do.
Frierson: What's the most creative thing you do? Or what's something creative you wish you could do?
Kupets Carter: I love interior design. It's one of my favorite things. ... My two passions in life are houses and designing, and gymnastics. It's just something I completely love. My first taste of it was when I was 18 and tore my Achilles, my parents -- again, distractions; apparently I need distractions in my life -- were trying to distract me from the pain and being upset with tearing an Achilles tendon, so they said I could decorate my room any way I wanted.
I just came up with this idea that I was going to have different stripes and colors, with white in between. I got this comforter that matched it, and ever since then I've been this HGTV fanatic and I absolutely love it.
Frierson: That takes me to Suzanne's other suggestion, which is for you to talk about what it was like during the 2008 NCAA Championships, when you couldn't compete because an injury. She said you had your leg resting on a rolling stool and were zipping around all over the place. Given how accomplished you already were at that point, how hard was it to only be able to watch? I bet it taught you some life lessons, as well.
Kupets Carter: It did. I'd been injured before but not in an environment where I wanted to be part of this team and we'd already won championships together, and I wanted to do that again. It was really humbling, I think, for me to realize that I've got to change my role on this team right now. I can't be that athlete out there and I can't give them the routine -- what can I give them? How can I be part of this team? And I thought just being silly and cheering them on.
The only way I could do that was getting on a little stool and putting a "G" on it and whipping around the coliseum. It was definitely a very humbling moment, but also at the same time I was so proud of my teammates. I couldn't be a part of it, so they had to do it for us. I wanted that national championship, even if I couldn't be the one competing.
Frierson: When you have a national championship haul like you have, where are all the trophies?
Kupets Carter: My goal is one day to have a Georgia room. I don't have that room yet and I plan to put it all there, but I think it's all still actually in my parents' closet. It's all stacked in the closet.
And since I moved down here, they've been like, "We've got too much of your stuff and it's time to take it back." I think they're going to be shipping it over to me every car ride they make to our house.
Frierson: What's something from your childhood that you really miss?
Kupets Carter: That's an interesting question. Maybe the pool that we went to. We moved around quite a bit after, but when I was growing up we had this really cool pool complex. There was an indoor pool, outdoor pool with a huge slide and another pool. I think I just miss that fun, carefree time, knowing we were going to the pool with friends.
Frierson: Is there a song that immediately came to mind when you thought back to going to the pool as a kid? For me, there's always a Steve Miller Band song in my head when I think back on going to the Athens Country Club pool when I was young.
Kupets Carter: No, but there are three different CDs that have impacted my life in different ways. It's funny, I was never someone who bought CDs so my friend gave them to me, again, when I had the cast on and couldn't do anything that summer. She gave me a Britney Spears CD and an 'N Sync CD.
I think I listened to them constantly, so whenever I hear those songs I just think back to when I was younger. But then at the (2004 Athens) Olympics, I actually had a Maroon 5 CD, and whenever we would run around to warm up, I'd be playing my Maroon 5 CD.
Those three CDs, when I hear any song from them, I go back (in my head) and I won't know you're there. I will be distracted and into that song.
Frierson: You're 30 years old, you have two Olympic medals, enough NCAA trophies to make most athletic departments envious, a family with a second child on the way and now you've taken over one of the historically great programs in collegiate athletics. Does your own life kind of amaze you at times?
Kupets Carter: In the moments in between, no, my life does not amaze me, because it is just life. You have to do everything: you have to go to the store; I don't make dinners properly and I wish I did.
There's such everyday life -- I need to clean my house more and it's a mess -- so, no, because I'm just so normal and just like everyone else. But when you say it like that, it's kind of crazy and I can't believe how much God has blessed me with and how much He's given me an opportunity and feels like I can handle these things.
You do have to have such a strong mentality to take on important and big things. Even going to the Olympics, something about your character has to be able to handle that capacity of competition.
When I think of it like that, I'm like, goodness gracious. I just have to keep on that path and know that whatever comes my way, I'm going to take it and I'm going to handle it.
(This Q&A was lightly edited for length and clarity.)
John Frierson is the staff writer for the UGA Athletic Association and curator of the ITA Men's Tennis Hall of Fame. You can find his work at: Frierson Files. He's also on Twitter: @FriersonFiles and @ITAHallofFame.