Former standout high school and college gymnast Kristin Driscoll now makes an impact as coach, account manager.
U.S. gymnastics hero Aly Raisman had her parents - and much of the country - squirming in their seats with each leap, vault and dismount at last summer’s Rio Olympics.
Kristin Driscoll never could get her mother to squirm like Raisman did, but it was not for lack of trying. From the onset, Driscoll was talented, passionate and, most of all, fearless. It wasn’t that her mother, Debbie, didn’t care. Far from it. Debbie had simply been around gymnastics long enough to know better than to worry herself into a frenzy.
Kristin, SportsEngine’s national gymnastics manager, was born to be a gymnast. Her mother was an NCAA Division I gymnast at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota, in the 1970’s and has been coaching girls’ varsity gymnastics at Mahtomedi High School, a St. Paul suburb, since 1976.
Kristin started hanging around Debbie’s practices when she was two-and-a-half and enrolled in “Mommy and Me” gymnastics classes at age four. At first, Kristin practiced her shapes with the other kindergartners, but her gymnastics pedigree quickly emerged, and she advanced into pre-teen classes.
As expected, her rapid growth came with occasional growing pains.
“Right when she had been moved up to preteen she was very tiny, and she fell off the beam doing a cartwheel,” Debbie said. “They did conditioning after that – push-ups, stretches, sit-ups. After practice she told me her shoulder hurt so we had it looked it. Turns out, she had broken her collarbone during the fall and still did all the conditioning.”
In elementary school, Kristin was practicing three to four nights per week and hanging out at her mom’s practices in the time left over. Her mother, in contrast, had to fight her way into the gym as opportunities for female gymnasts in the 1970’s were limited.
Name: Kristin Driscoll | Age: 33
Resides in: St. Paul, Minnesota
Family: Parents, Debbie and Jim; Bubba (cat).
Job: SportsEngine National Gymnastics Manager; Assistant gymnastics coach at Mahtomedi High School
Interests: Running marathons and playing tennis
Thanks to her passion, energy and pedigree, Kristin Driscoll was leaping and tumbling across gyms before her third birthday. Her mother, Debbie, was an NCAA Division I gymnast and began coaching at Mahtomedi High School in 1976. Driscoll advanced beyond her age group and competed in club gymnastics until she joined her mother’s varsity team as a 10th-grader. Driscoll won six individual state championships in three years, and the Zephyrs competed as a team at the state tournament all three years. Driscoll competed at the NCAA Division III level at Hamline University in St. Paul and qualified for nationals in 2003, 2004 and, as team captain, in 2005. During her senior year at Hamline, Driscoll began her 12-year tenure as her mother’s assistant coach at Mahtomedi, and in 2012 and 2014 she was named the Minnesota State Gymnastics Coaches Association Assistant Coach of the Year. She also served as assistant coach at Hamline from 2011 to 2013. She was hired as a sales representative at SportsEngine in 2014 and now serves as national gymnastics manager.
Debbie’s gymnastics career started “late” as a pre-teen in a dance class with an instructor who happened to teach tumbling too. She begged for four years until, as a tenth-grader, a club team allowed her to join. From there, she competed on a Gustavus Adolphus team that beat the University of Minnesota and competed at nationals her sophomore year.
Kristin, on the other hand, had a much larger pool of opportunities between club teams, school teams and extra practice with her mother.
“I think I had more play time than her,” Debbie said. “She once told me that all she did was go to school and gymnastics and I said, ‘I’m so sorry.’ She replied: ‘Shut up, I love it.’ ”
Kristin competed in club gymnastics until joining Mahtomedi’s high school team as a 10th-grader. Debbie had already built quite a legacy as a coach, which currently includes 10 state team titles, 37 individual state titles, 36 conference championships and State Head Coach of the Year awards from the Minnesota State Gymnastics Coaches Association in 1996, 2006 and 2016.
Kristin contributed to the legacy in high school when she won six individual section championships in beam, floor and all-around between 1999 and 2001. The Zephyrs placed third in state in 1999 and fourth in 2000 and 2001.
Kristin’s continued her gymnastics career at Hamline University in St. Paul where Doug Byrnes – one of the few local gymnasts who hadn’t heard of Debbie – was in his third year as head coach. Byrnes quickly recognized Kristin’s energy and drive, which, especially when it came to the vault, made him squirm like the Raismans.
“She would have been a good rugby player,” Byrnes said. “In other words, she wasn’t afraid of impact or to go for it. She wanted to learn how to learn a high-level vault that I didn’t know much about and wanted to learn by just going for it. I thought, ‘Holy crap, she’s going to kill herself.’ ”
She wanted to learn how to learn a high-level vault that I didn’t know much about and wanted to learn by just going for it. I thought, ‘Holy crap, she’s going to kill herself.’ ’’
- Hamline University coach Doug Byrnes on Kristin Driscoll
Byrnes was well-aware that vault was by far Kristin’s weakest event but knew he couldn’t deny his athlete the chance to try. The two began practicing together and worked out a protocol to walk Kristin through the vault without her flying 10 feet in the air. Byrnes and his assistants lifted Kristin into the air and formed her body into each position, simulating the vault faster and faster until she was ready to leap.
And Kristin, according to Byrnes and her mother, was never afraid to leap.
“Kristin always committed to her jumps and they weren’t always technically good, but since she committed she never got hurt,” Byrnes said. “It’s when you are tentative that injuries happen. Were there close calls? Yes and no. For someone who knows what they are watching, some looked pretty close to disastrous, but for the average fan it looked normal.”
Kristin went to the NCAA Division III nationals all four years for all-around. In 2003, she also qualified for vault, bars, beam and floor in 2003. In 2004, she qualified for the floor event finals and, according to Byrnes, just missed being an All-American and returned to nationals for floor in 2005. Driscoll was captain as a senior, earned degrees in Sports Management and Psychology and later served as Byrne’s assistant coach from 2011 to 2013.
All the while, Kristin kept tabs on her mother and the Zephyrs’ gymnastics team. In 2005, she joined Debbie at Mahtomedi as an assistant coach, where Kristin has been named state assistant coach of the year by the Minnesota State Gymnastics Coaches Association twice in the last four years.
“At the time, I was just sick of watching their bad choreography,” Kristin said. “It was supposed to be a two-year gig, but here I am going on year 12.”
Kristin also pursued a career in sales, beginning with GK Elite Sportswear and later the Minnesota Vikings. While working as an account representative for the Vikings, she heard about SportsEngine (then TST Media) from a co-worker and knew it was an environment she could thrive in. Since joining SportsEngine in 2014 as sales representative, she has used her gymnastics experience to become national gymnastics manager and manages accounts including Chicago Style Meet and USA Gymnastics.
While her career at SportsEngine is blossoming, her years at Mahtomedi are numbered. Kristin said she will most likely retire alongside her mother when that time comes, letting someone else start a new legacy.
“It’s been cool to be a part of that legacy as a fan, athlete and colleague,” Kristin said. “Now, I get to help pass that legacy on.”