As Nebraska freshman gymnast Taylor Christopulos prepared for vault in the seventh and final rotation of the Big Ten Championships, he was thinking about his family.
Not just his “family” as in his parents and four siblings, but his teammates too.
This has always been the case for Christopulos, who started competing in gymnastics when he was in middle school.
Originally from Layton, Utah, Christopulos was inspired to try gymnastics after his older brother started, but did not become serious until joining the USA Gymnastics World club team.
“My club team is where it all began,” Christopulos said. “I’ve been with the same coaches, Adam Jacobs and Gabe Conner, since I was little so I have a great relationship with them. They’ve taught me everything I know, it's like a second home.”
While competing for his club team, Christopulos made multiple national appearances. Most recently, he placed third in all-around, floor and rings at the 2019 Junior Olympic National Championships.
Although he considered postponing college to serve his Mormon missionary, Christopulos decided to continue his gymnastics career at the collegiate level, landing on Nebraska after meeting the team and coaching staff.
“The team is what I loved most about Nebraska, they are like family now,” Christopulos said. “It’s a positive environment, we are honest with each other, and can still have a good time as well.”
When Nebraska head gymnastics coach Chuck Chmelka recruited Christopulos, a 4.5 star recruit, according to the College Gymnastics Association, he knew how good he was athletically. However, he didn’t realize the extent of his unwavering drive to succeed and excel, both in life and in gymnastics.
This drive and work ethic is part of what has already made him such a huge asset for the team.
“Not very often does a freshman come around and play such an important role on the team that Taylor has,” Chmelka said. “He is very talented and has scored points for us that I never thought he would in his freshman year. He is one of the hardest workers on the team, a quiet unsung hero.”
Despite COVID-19 limiting access to indoor gyms, Christopulos felt confident going into his first season since he was able to continue training, unlike many student-athletes during that time.
“All collegiate athletes got hit pretty hard by COVID-19,” Christopulos said. “There were guys who were unable to train for months so I feel like I came into the season with more of an advantage that I am extremely grateful for.”
Christopulos rode that advantage to a successful regular season, where he claimed five individual titles and was a three-time NCAA Rookie of the Week. Christopulos then shined at his first Big Ten Championships, claiming second on vault and earning All-Conference Second-Team honors. Despite his individual success this season, what Christopulos enjoyed most was watching his team succeed.
“Big Tens was super exciting because it was all the freshmen and sophomore’s first one due to COVID-19 cutting their season short last year,” Christopulos said. “We were all in it together and just went out there to have fun and hit the routines the best we could.”
This team-oriented mindset led to the Huskers finishing second overall at the Big Ten Championships. While he competed and placed individually on vault, what he was most focused on was his all-around routine, which is the event that contributed towards the team score.
Christopulos also said the team's support for one another and the programs emphasis on team was part of why the Huskers were so successful at Big Tens and successful in general.
“We compete for each other and find motivation in each other,” Christopulos said. “The best moments are when teammates nail routines because you know they've worked so hard for that moment and you're just cheering and supporting them with teammates.”
Chmelka echoes this team-first sentiment, saying that the goal going into every meet this season and going into the national meet is to focus on the team.
“We only have control over ourselves, so if we concentrate on each other and our individual routines then everything will fall into place,” Chmelka said. “For nationals this weekend we will hopefully have a nice solid, well-rounded competition, really peak at the right time, and just do the best gymnastics we can do.”
The NCAA National Championships, set for April 16, is the last meet of the season and Christopulos dreams of helping his team win a national title. He said that as long as the team is able to peak there, that's all that matters, and he feels confident that they will do well after seeing everyone's hard work so far in the season.
Another personal factor that Christopoulos will focus on going into nationals is his confidence, something he didn't always have growing up.
“I used to get really nervous before big meets,” Christopulos said. “I wasn’t the most confident kid for a while but luckily I've gotten better through the years. We work so hard and so long that you have confidence in yourself when you put that much time into a sport.”
Christopulos’ hard work throughout his freshman campaign earned him Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors for his successful season, which he said he is extremely grateful for.
Chmelka said that while this honor was a surprise, he is honored and excited for his talented freshman.
“I didn't realize that the rest of the Big Ten was following him and he was making such an impact in their eyes as he was in ours,” Chmelka said. “He has unlimited potential and as long as he can stay healthy, he is going to continue to improve and could potentially become one of the most decorated athletes in the history of our program.”
Regardless of his talent and effort in the gym, Christopulos attributes his success as an athlete to his entire gymnastics family, his biggest motivation.
“I wouldn't be able to do it without people in my corner. Teammates, coaches, family, everyone that has sacrificed for me,” Christopulos said. “Every bit of success I've had so far has been for those that have supported me throughout my life and career as an athlete. I am forever grateful for them and look forward to what the team can do next.”