Senior Linda Zivat praises Iowa gymnastics’ culture

After transferring from Michigan State for a clean slate to close her collegiate gymnastics career, Zivat flourished and grew under head coach Larissa Libby and her supportive teammates.


Lillie Hawker

Iowa gymnast Linda Zivat hugs teammate Kareena McSweeny after in celebration after her bar routine during a gymnastics meet between Iowa and Minnesota in Iowa City on Friday, Jan. 27, 2023. The Hawkeyes and the Gophers tied with each getting a score 196.875.

Jami Martin-Trainor, Assistant Digital Editor

With serious injuries plaguing her for two years and complications associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, the beginning of Linda Zivat’s college gymnastics career was less than ideal.

So, when Zivat transferred to Iowa from Michigan State for her junior year, one of the first things she noted about the Hawkeyes was the culture difference in the gym.

“Coming off an injury, I struggled a lot starting up my gymnastics again,” Zivat said. “Every day, there were little victories, just seeing how genuinely excited my friends were and my teammates were.”

In her first visit to campus, Zivat said head coach Larissa Libby was intentional in forming a connection with both her and her mother. Zivat also noticed the way the team immediately tried to chat with her.

“The girls came up and were excited to meet me and talk to me and get to know me. It was very genuine,” Zivat said. “You could just tell that the culture of the program is there.”

Now, two years after joining the Hawkeyes, Zivat has flourished. On Feb. 1, Zivat was named the Big Ten Tri-Event Specialist of the Week. Zivat said the accomplishment made it feel like her work paid off.

Libby said transfers are not typical for the Iowa women’s gymnastics team. The current roster only has two transfers, and Zivat was the only transfer her first year on the team.

Libby said the transfer process is gross in the way that coaches must shop for people on the team. Libby said she is good friends with Michigan State’s gymnastics coach, who was able to speak on Zivat’s behalf.

When Zivat officially joined the team, Libby made a point to help the teammates get to know one another. Every year, Libby promotes team building by hosting a get-together outside of Iowa City.

“It’s a lot of pressure to be on the team — to be on anybody’s team — in Iowa City,” Libby said. “It’s a small city, so everybody knows who you are. That in itself, while it’s super exciting, is also largely stressful. There’s constantly a whole community watching you.”

The getaway helps the athletes get to know one another outside of gymnastics — a point Libby stresses. She said growing up with gymnastics is hard, and she does everything in her power to help the team heal from any toxicity in their pasts.

As a former gymnast, Libby understands the unhealthy culture that surrounds the field. She said gymnasts are taught as young children that they need to be quiet and take demands implicitly. From her own experiences, Libby is working to transform her community.

“What other sport starts at perfection and deducts? There is not a single sport that does that,” Libby said. “That in itself is insanity. Some of them have had more trauma than you can even imagine.”

Showing value outside of gymnastics is part of how the GymHawks can build such a strong and caring team culture. Zivat said that is what pushes her to continue improving.

“It’s just such a great feeling, knowing how happy people are for you,” Zivat said. “It’s reciprocated. I want it for my team as well.”

To build this positivity among teammates, Libby said she focuses on giving the women a voice and opinion so they don’t implicitly take orders from their coaches.

“Our culture is to try and undo all of that before they graduate in four years,” Libby said. “How they see themselves, how they allow their friends to treat them, the relationships that are inviting into their lives — it drives all of that stuff.”

While Libby has only coached Zivat for the past two years, she pushes to engrave that message onto the entire team. Gymnastics and scores are important, but to Libby, nothing is put above the fact that her women are human beings and deserve to be treated as such.

Zivat doesn’t know what she wants to do after graduation, but she said she is keeping her options open and plans on following her passion.

“Ultimately, I don’t want to walk away from gymnastics with any regrets,” Zivat said.