Dan Kendig: "When Richelle Simpson came to Lincoln, she was a perfect fit. She loved Nebraska; Nebraska loved her."
Photo by University Archives and Special Collections, UNL Library

The Art of Perfection: Simpson ‘Fit’ Nebraska

By NU Athletic Communications

University of Nebraska Athletics Hall of Fame

Video: Richelle Simpson 2003 Floor Exercise

Photo Gallery: Simpson's Remarkable Career

Randy York’s N-Sider

Official Blog of the Huskers

To this day, Nebraska Women’s Gymnastics Coach Dan Kendig doesn’t know why Richelle Simpson accepted a scholarship to Penn State, moved to State College, Pa., from Toronto, Canada, and then wanted to leave the East Coast shortly after she arrived. “I don’t know and it doesn’t matter,” Kendig said. “All I know is that from the first day she set foot in Lincoln, it was a perfect fit … for her and for us. Richelle loved Nebraska and Nebraska loved her.”

“She’s so humble and respectful," Kendig said. "She has great work ethic, was an instant star, got better every day. She's a tremendous person, great leader and total team player. Richelle cared so much about Nebraska, she made Canada’s World Team, helped them qualify for the 2004 Olympics, then wanted to come back instead, so she could finish business here.”

Simpson was Nebraska’s first female gymnast to earn first-team All-America honors on all five events. She helped the Huskers earn a fourth-place national finish, the best in program history.

A two-time NCAA champion and Academic All-American, Simpson posted eight perfect scores at Nebraska and owns a school-record 39.825 all-around score. She was the Huskers’ first AAI Award winner. She was also a Top Ten honoree, the NCAA’s highest individual accolade, before earning her Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Nebraska in 2005 with a double major in International Studies and French.

Richelle Simpson's two NCAA titles created recognition for her, NU's program and Coach Dan Kendig.

Simpson: Nebraska Gymnastics Will Always Be Incredibly Strong, Exceptional

Simpson could not be more humbled or honored to be a part of this weekend's inaugural University of Nebraska Athletics Hall of Fame induction ceremony Friday, followed by recogntion during halftime of Saturday's Nebraska-BYU football season-opener at Memorial Stadium. Still a longtime performer at Mystère in Las Vegas, Simpson will be in Lincoln this weekend for the festivities, along with her boyfriend and her mother, who still lives in Canada.

"Nebraska Gymnastics has and always will be an incredibly strong and exceptional program," Simpson told me. "I'm forever thankful and proud to have gotten the chance to be a small part of its history." Before choosing to compete in Lincoln, Simpson admits she had no idea what people meant when they said There is no place like Nebraska. "I was foreign to the Midwest and to its culture," the 5-foot-1 native of Toronto, Ontario, said. "I quickly learned that there was an incredible hospitality and friendliness that came with being a part of the Husker family."

After spending more than four years in Lincoln, then moving and traveling to different cities across North America, Simpson was able to fully realize Nebraska's uniqueness. "Although I did not spend my childhood in Nebraska, it will remain a place I consider home," she said. "The support that was given to me by my coaches, teammates, athletic staff, academic staff and the community, throughout my years there, was unparalleled to anything else I've ever experienced."

Nebraska Provided Support, Great Expectations, Culture, Integrity, Inspiration

At first, it was difficult for Simpson to comprehend the extent of the opportunities Nebraska Athletics had to offer. "The tools that were provided and the support given were everything and more that anyone could have ever imagined," she said. "Coupled with the highest expectation of integrity, Nebraska created the inspirational and motivational culture we all needed to succeed."

One of Simpson's most vivid collegiate highlights was her last year at Nebraska. "Our team was young, and we were at the Big 12 Championships," she said. "It was a tough competition but we won, and I remember seeing the click of comprehension in my young teammates eyes when we found out the results. They finally understood the whole picture. They knew why we had worked so hard, why we always stuck together and why we supported each other. They got a taste of the immense thrill and satisfaction that comes with the reward of hard work"

Leader Learned the Lessons That Built Simpson's Cirque du Soleil Career

At that point, Simpson felt that elements in her career had come full circle. "I was shown early on in my career at Nebraska why we worked so hard, what goals we were working towards and what it felt like to achieve them together," she said. "Now, they had experienced the same thing I did and it would be their responsibility to carry it on."

In her current career, "I've been able to fulfill a lifelong dream of working for several shows in the company, Cirque du Soleil," Simpson said proudly. "I experience the thrill of performing several acts that I love every night. Yet nothing will be able to compare to that memory of that incredible year at the Big 12 Championships. That experience will forever remain cherished in my heart."

No Question About It ... Excellence Became the Result of Expectation

A person who personifies perfection goes well beyond the 10.0 scores she recorded with such remarkable consistency. Deep down, Simpson is an individually driven teammate, and there is absolutely no doubt in her mind when it comes to the next sentence. "Excellence was the expectation," she said. "There was no question that everyday we came into the gym, the classroom, community outreach, you name it, excellence was what  we strived for.

"Some days were better than others, but the expectation was clear," she added. "It was my teammates and my coaches that taught me that. Everyday in the gym, everyone was working as hard as they could work, and I knew that I needed to work just as hard or harder for them; for the team. When an environment like that is created and strongly structured, there is absolutely no room for any other alternatives."

For anyone who thinks otherwise, ask the other members of the jury that included Simpson's young teammates, pictured above. They are, top row, from left: Stephanie Carter, Jamie Saas, Natasha Gowda, Gina Bruce, Libby Landgraf, Tami Harris and Danielle Millis, and bottom row, from left: Kylie Tanner, Michele Zabawa, Kristi Esposito, Richelle Simpons and Tiffany Byrd.

Simpson Working Her Ninth Year as a Performer for Cirque du Soleil

Simpson is in her ninth year performing for Cirque du Soleil and year seven entertaining at Treasure Island's Mystère. In the two years before joining Mystère, she performed for Saltimbanco, the company's touring show. She works two shows a night five nights a week, beginning at 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. in Vegas' oldest Cirque show on The Strip. "The show's 21 years old," said Simpson, pictured above in one of her roles. "It's fun and inspirational." Cirque's awe-inducing entertainment features colorful sets and imaginative costumes and showcases highly-skilled performers.

"I never thought I would be there this long, but it's so creative and so energizing," Simpson said. "We have many people who have worked for the show for many years, including two or three who have been here since we started. They're acrobats, dancers and solo artists doing what they love to do most and making a good living." An Academic All-American as well as an NCAA All-American, Simpson understands the logic. "I loved competing for Nebraska," she said, "and I love performing with others who are some of the best in the world. It's humbling and motivating to work with them."

Simpson also loved living in Lincoln. "The art and cultural aspects seem to be growing rapidly," she said, "and the University itself continues to expand and improve. Facilities are more innovative and the support continues to increase. In my mind, it's certain that world-class athletes will be excited to be part of Nebraska's student-athlete experience." 

Professional Entertainer Embraces, Shares Three Favorite Life Lessons

I ask Richelle Simpson to share her favorite life lessons, and she chooses three quick-hitting short statements: 1) No matter what, try your best; 2) You cannot control everything; and 3) Appreciate your past and strive for your future.

"Every so often, the most difficult times are the best lessons learned," Simpson said. "It was not an easy pathway for me to get to Nebraska, and it was not a smooth culmination of my gymnastics career. But when you go through hard and ugly times, it builds character. What kind of character remains up to you. People often say what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. I think it's the ability to appreciate the good things in life because of your experiences. That's what molds the strength in your character."

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Randy’s N-Sider Column Archive

 

Nebraska Athletics

Hall of Fame Profiles

Steve Friesen: Men’s Golf

Charlie Greene: Men’s Track and Field

Jim Hartung: Men’s Gymnastics

Penny Hynes: Women's Swimming and Diving

Steve Jung: Men's Tennis

Joe Kirby: Men's Cross Country

Christine Latham: Soccer

Liz (Mooney) Shaffer: Women's Tennis

Adam Pine: Men's Swimming

Shannon Pluhowsky: Bowling

Dave Rimingon: Football

Sarah Sasse-Kildow: Women's Golf

Richelle Simpson: Women's Gymnastics

Lori Sippel: Softball

Fran (ten Bensel) Benne: Women's Cross Country

Amanda Trujillo: Rifle

 

 

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