An Exercise in Commitment
Julie Campbell’s job title may have changed, but her passion for helping gymnasts has not
One year ago, the University of Denver gymnastics team was celebrating one of its finest moments. Fresh off its first-ever regional championship, the squad had advanced to the NCAA team final, where it placed fourth.
It was a high point for Julie Campbell, who has been part of the team for 20 years. She first visited campus as a young athletic trainer in 2000, and when she met the new, dynamic gymnastics coach, Melissa Kutcher (now Melissa Kutcher-Rinehart), she knew she had found home.
In the decades since, Kutcher-Rinehart has grown the program into a powerhouse, and her assistant athletic trainer has been there every step of the way.
Campbell has since ascended to the role of senior associate athletic director for Pioneer Health and Performance, coordinating everything from nutrition to psychology for DU’s 300-plus student-athletes. Her journey has included stops at the largest stages in sport, working with the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic teams.
But even as her career has progressed, Campbell tells the DU Newsroom, she hasn’t given up the duties that initially brought her to Denver. Under normal circumstances, she still works with the gymnastics team on a daily basis. And although the outbreak of coronavirus cut another promising season short, Campbell is still busy supporting and treating student-athletes.
First of all, what was it like to have the season cut short, especially on the heels of last year’s success?
It was definitely a shock when we learned the news, but we truly believe that it was the right decision. While it was heartbreaking for the student-athletes and staff, it was an even harder loss for all the seniors in winter and spring sports. I feel such pride in the resiliency demonstrated by our gymnasts and all student-athletes in the face of this adversity. We were looking forward to hosting the NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Regional Championships, but we’ll use the experience gained in the process for future hosting opportunities.
How has your role changed during the pandemic?
Administratively, we have transitioned to virtual meetings and are working diligently to promote health, wellness and performance through education and virtual training for the student-athletes. My primary responsibility to care for the student-athletes has not changed, but it functions differently due to the pandemic. I am currently seeing the gymnasts who are still in Denver and are recovering from significant injuries that they sustained during the competition season. Telehealth is also playing a major role for the student-athletes around the country and world during this time.
Where does your love of gymnastics come from?
I was a gymnast through high school. I loved the sport. I was a gym rat, not a big fan of competing but loved to train. And through that training I got hurt a lot, so I spent a lot of time in orthopedic offices. I didn’t love being hurt, but I loved learning more about how the human body operates and how you return to sport, so I think it was a natural evolution. I always wanted to be highly involved in athletics, but it wasn’t going to be as a college athlete, so going into sports medicine was a natural fit for me. I always wanted to work with really ambitious, goal-driven individuals.
How do you keep up with a field that has changed tremendously in your career?
It’s changed a lot. The old philosophy on strength and conditioning was "bigger, faster, stronger," which is still an important component of what we do. But so much now is about the preventive side, the preparation to train and compete at the highest level and integrating into coaches’ training plans. And the recovery piece has grown exponentially.
I think a continual passion for learning and being the best helps make us successful. Our team believes in being cutting edge and staying ahead of the curve. If I have a student-athlete [who] requires surgery, I actually go into surgery [too] and stand next to the surgeon, so I’m learning every step of the way, and I can be as involved as possible to help their recovery.
You’ve been at DU for 13 Pioneer national championships, 11 Directors’ Cups and 152 NCAA tournament appearances. Do you have a favorite moment?
Very near and dear to my heart was last year, when the women’s gymnastics team won the regional championship and advanced to the Final Four. That group of individuals is extremely special. Each one of them is a unique, amazing, passion-driven individual. They make my job fun and rewarding every single day. I’ve been with teams that have achieved really great things, but I think what sets this one apart is its character. They accomplished everything athletically, but being around them as people was an absolute joy.
What keeps you at DU?
I feel so happy that I get to come to a job that I love. It’s not one single thing. There are so many people who are striving to make things better for our students. I think there are so many people that I come into contact with every day at the University who are just really great people and are striving to improve to make things better for our students. It's really meaningful.
What gets me really excited is when I see a student-athlete overcome a difficult obstacle or succeed in an area they didn’t think was possible. When I have an athlete that’s injured, not only getting them back to performing and competing, but doing it at a higher level than they even thought possible, that’s what’s rewarding to me. Seeing that happiness in their face and that “Oh my gosh, I did it” is the best part of my job. That’s why I do this.