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Former UK gymnast Jenny Hansen is the only woman to win three straight NCAA all-around title (1993-95). She also captures NCAA titles on the balance beam (1994, 1995), vault (1994, 1995) and floor exercise (1995). (UK Athletics) Former UK gymnast Jenny Hansen is the only woman to win three straight NCAA all-around title (1993-95). She also captures NCAA titles on the balance beam (1994, 1995), vault (1994, 1995) and floor exercise (1995). (UK Athletics)
During a 7 p.m. meet vs. Arkansas in Memorial Coliseum, Jenny Hansen -- the greatest gymnast in Kentucky history -- will be honored with a jersey retirement ceremony. Jersey retirement is considered the highest honor UK Athletics can bestow, and it's a deserving one for Hansen, who won eight national championships during pretty much the most decorated career a college gymnast can have.

Ahead of Hansen's big night, we are republishing this story, which originally ran in the summer of 2011.

To call Jenny Hansen's career as a gymnast at the University of Kentucky "decorated" would be a gross understatement. Running down a list of her achievements is mind-boggling in and of itself.

Eight NCAA gymnastics championship titles. A record three straight all-around titles from 1993 to 1995. Thirteen All-America honors. Kentucky Sportsman of the Year in 1995.  Most outstanding gymnast of the past 25 years as recognized by the NCAA.

Simply put, she's still the greatest gymnast in program history and one of the best student-athletes to don UK's colors.

For Hansen, though, the honors that meant the most were her inductions into the hall of fames for both UK and the state of Kentucky. Being recognized alongside fellow inductees like Pat Riley, Allan Houston, Tim Couch and Hillerich & Bradsby (the makers of Louisville Slugger baseball bats) was an experience that stopped Hansen in her tracks.

"It's kind of surreal," Hansen said. "I think of myself as Jenny Hansen. I'm Jen. I'm Hansen. I'm just me. I've been given this amazing gift and this incredible talent to be able to do what I can do. For the University of Kentucky and the state of Kentucky to recognize me and put me in their hall of fame, I was just blown away. There are no words really to explain it."

Humility and self-awareness are traits that we look for in athletes, but finding them in genuine form is often a tall task. With Hansen, they are unmistakable. She recognizes that the natural talent that she has been blessed with is a gift; a gift that has taken her places she could not possibly have foreseen; a gift that she believes she is responsible for stewarding and continuing to share with others.

It's that kind of attitude that has brought Hansen back to the place that made her a hall of famer: the gym. Her return started out as a foray into the world of television when a friend called her while Hansen was living and working in North Dakota.

"Two years ago, one of my best friends is a stunt woman, she called me up when I was living in North Dakota and she said, 'You need to train again, there's a show,' " Hansen said.

The cable television channel ABC Family was beginning filming on a new show that needed skilled gymnasts. Hansen picked up and moved to Simi Valley, Calif., for the new gig.

"I started training for this show called 'Make It or Break It,' " Hansen said. "It's an ABC Family show and it's about four girls that are trying to make the Olympics in gymnastics. They needed gymnasts and I ended up being a gymnastics double on the show and then I did background work and things like that."

Hansen had not seriously trained for a while, but the competitive fire that still burned inside of her responded in a way that she didn't foresee. She took her workouts "to the highest level" and found that her substantial talents had not yet been lost to the hands of time. Production on the second season of the show wrapped in December, but Hansen was not willing to end things there.

In fact, she has even higher aspirations. More than 15 years removed from her final season at UK, Hansen is trying to re-enter the elite level of gymnastics competition.

"That was for two years and at the end of December, we just finished up season two and during that time I guess I just started feeling like I wanted to continue on and keep working on it," Hansen said. "My ultimate goal would be to get to the Olympics but my current goal is just to try to get on the national team."

Of all sports, gymnastics is one that perhaps belongs most to the young. The roster of the United States national team for the 2008 Beijing Olympics included three 16-year-old gymnasts, one 18-year-old and two 20-year-olds. For perspective, Hansen was in college in the mid 1990s.

Hansen recognizes the challenge in front of her and embraces it. She is just a couple weeks away from the next milestone in her comeback. She will be participating in an elite qualifier on July 2 in Houston and there are two more meets on the horizon if things go according to plan.

"If I get the qualifying score, I'll get to go to the Cover Girl Classic and that's in Chicago," Hansen said. "In Chicago, hopefully I'll get the qualifying score to go to the Visa Championships in St. Paul (Minn.). This year that's my ultimate goal."

Hansen has learned the hard way that there is a reason why youth is favored in gymnastics, but the journey has been enjoyable nonetheless.

"There are a few little injuries that pop up, so I've had to back off my training a little bit, then I go back to it," Hansen said. "It's frustrating, but at the same time it's so much fun."

Naturally, Hansen is the type of athlete that will push herself to the brink in her preparation, even if the odds tell her that her chances of succeeding are extremely slim. Being more advanced in age than the last time she competed, Hansen has learned how to listen to what her own body is saying.

"It's taken a bit for me to listen to my body and what it needs," Hansen said. "I just can't stop and not work and everything is going to start piling up. It's my responsibility, as an adult, to keep myself afloat."

Also helping in her efforts is her sister, who serves as her coach for meets.

"I was talking to my middle sister who was on the national team in 1986 or 1987," Hansen said, "and I said, 'I don't know what to do. I don't have a coach and I have to go to this meet.' And she said, 'I'll be your coach.' She registered with USA Gymnastics. She got her coaching registration, she got all of this stuff and at the meets, she's my coach. It's really great."

While Hansen calls training her "full-time job," she still spends time as a personal trainer for a few clients and as a coach at her gym in California.

"I do a little personal training on the side, since out here you have to do everything," Hansen said. "I do a little personal training; I just have three clients. They're so much fun and I love working with them. I incorporate the gymnastics that I know and the things that I'm learning now. It's fun. I like encouraging these women. I also coach at the gym that I train at, only two days a week."

Once her gymnastics career reaches a conclusion, Hansen isn't willing to restrict herself to a single profession. Rest assured, though, she'll be using her talents and background as a gymnast, whether as a stunt woman, a trainer or a coach.

"That's my ultimate goal, to stay in the stunt world," Hansen said. "I would really like to do personal training and motivate people and maybe even motivate kids just to have fun in the sports that they do. There's so many things that I love doing and I want to stay in everything. I don't want to have just one occupation."

Whatever the future holds, much of Hansen's foundation was established during her time at the University of Kentucky. Though it was two decades ago, Hansen still looks back at her college experience fondly, from competition to academics to social life.

"An amazing experience," Hansen said. "I can't say enough about (then-UK head coach) Leah Little and (assistant coach) Tim Myers. I loved UK. I loved the college experience, I loved my roommates."

Hansen was especially full of praise for the athletic training staff during her time at UK, as well as her professors and classmates that she got to know as she worked toward her degree in animal science equine. Hansen had to cope with dyslexia as a student and said that without the support and tutoring at Kentucky's Center for Academic and Tutorial Services, her success in school would not have been possible.

"The CATS program was amazing," Hansen said. "Mike Haley, he was my adviser and he was the best. I would ask Mike what classes I should take and he was like, 'OK, Hansen, this is what you're going to do.' Being a student-athlete, you're so focused on (sports) that it was nice to have that CATS program to help you through so many difficulties, especially because I am dyslexic. That was a big help in my school."

Hansen has had the chance to briefly introduce herself to UK's newly-minted gymnastics head coach Tim Garrison and had a very positive impression about where he will take the program. She said that she was impressed by the work Garrison did with a gymnastics team in California close to Hansen's home.

"He was really great," Hansen said. "It's crazy that he's only the third coach at UK. I wish him success. I saw that he coached out here and he got a couple girls to nationals and things."

Little, Hansen's coach at UK, was largely responsible for the founding of the gymnastics program at the school. If there is one thing about Little that Hansen hopes Garrison can duplicate, it is the infusion of a spirit of fun into training and competition.

"I hope he keeps it fun for the girls," Hansen said. "That's what Leah was so wonderful at. She pushed us, but she let us enjoy our college experience. If we had problems, she would talk to us. There were times when I would just need a hug and she said OK and it was always such a heartfelt hug. She was right there with us. When we were crying, she would try to console us."


Finding perspective isn't always an easy thing for a coach.

Since the goal is constant improvement, Matthew Mitchell can't always separate himself from that.

"You just kind of view your team differently," Mitchell said. "You know all of the deficiencies your team has and you know what you feel like they're capable of doing and what they're not doing and all those things kind of roll into you maybe being a little more critical of your team than anyone else's."

But when he takes a step back, Mitchell can remember that Kentucky is in a good place. The No. 11/10 Wildcats (19-6, 8-4 Southeastern Conference) are well-positioned for the postseason. UK is in the top 10 of the RPI and currently projected to host first- and second-round NCAA Tournament games, an impressive fact considering the Cats have dealt with a month-long injury to senior defensive stopper Bria Goss and a season-ending one suffered by point guard Janee Thompson.

"I think all in all it could a lot different right now," Mitchell said. "So I'm really, really proud of the position they've put themselves in. We just need to finish. We need to finish and keep getting better. I think if we can do that we can do some special things here down the stretch."

The stretch run for Kentucky begins with a Thursday matchup with No. 15 Texas A&M (20-6, 8-4 SEC) that will go on as scheduled in spite of winter weather in Lexington. The Aggies are led by dynamic juniors Courtney Williams and Courtney Walker, who are averaging a combined 29.4 points, 9.5 rebounds and 3.6 assists.

"Texas A&M is a very good team," Mitchell said. "Some of the best players in the conference are on their team. It will be a difficult challenge. Our team is upbeat and excited for the game, and we are going to work hard and see if we can earn a very, very important victory for our team."

The victory is important because the Cats and Aggies are competing not only in the SEC but for NCAA Tournament seeding. The two teams are currently knotted in conference standings in pursuit of a bye in the SEC Tournament and separated by a single seed line in ESPN.com's latest Bracketology. UK is a No. 3 and Texas A&M No. 4.

"It would be a significant victory," Mitchell said. "We're right there with them in competition for some positioning in the SEC and probably the NCAA, too. So, it's a big game. Big game tomorrow night. The thing I tell the team is that we still have an opportunity to get it together and really play some good basketball and see how good we can be."

As has been the case most of the season, Mitchell is targeting improvement first in the post. With a group now made up of two seniors and three freshmen with the return of veteran Jelleah Sidney, inconsistency has been an issue, including in a loss on Sunday at Tennessee.

UK was outrebounded 46-36 in the loss, a far cry from the 39-38 advantage the Cats enjoyed in a previous matchup with the Lady Volunteers.

"That was just a real rough game," Mitchell said. "It was a real rough game and if you didn't stick your nose in there and really play tough you weren't going to be successful. That's what I was disappointed in. I just thought we were out-toughed in the post a lot of times."

The Aggies are capable of inflicting damage similar to what Tennessee did if they Cats don't come ready.

"They look like an A&M team: Big and physical in the post, a good power game and if you don't play real, real tough they can make some plays and have great size," Mitchell said. "It's a very good A&M team and really tough in the post. We'll have to play well."

Performance of the Week

DeMarcus Cousins | Milwaukee Bucks: 111, Sacramento Kings: 103
In Sacramento's last game before the All-Star break, Cousins posted a monster double-double on the road versus Brandon Knight's Bucks. The 24-year-old Alabama native recorded 28 points (on 10-for-12 free-throw shooting), 19 rebounds, five assists and four blocks in a losing effort on Feb. 11.


Cats in the Spotlight

Eric Bledsoe | #2 PG | Phoenix Suns (29-25)
After missing a Feb. 8 contest with Sacramento to witness the birth of his child, Bledsoe returned to action last Tuesday in a 127-118 loss to the Houston Rockets. With 12 points in 13 trips to the foul line, Bledsoe totaled 32 points on the day. He filled out the box score with four assists, four rebounds, two steals and a block.

DeMarcus Cousins | #15 C | Sacramento Kings (18-34)
In only three matchups last week, Cousins recorded two 28-point games, each complemented by a double-digit performance on the glass. Before last Wednesday's double-double in Milwaukee, Cousins posted 28 points and 12 rebounds in an 85-83 win over the Phoenix Suns.

Enes Kanter | #0 C | Utah Jazz (19-34)
Kanter-- who averages 7.8 RPG on the season-- grabbed at least 10 rebounds in both Jazz contests last week, highlighted by a 14-point, 11-rebound performance in a 100-96 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans.

Brandon Knight | #11 PG | Milwaukee Bucks (30-23)
After an uncharacteristically lackluster showing in a Feb. 9 Bucks win, Knight scored 20 points (with six rebounds and five assists) in Milwaukee's eight-point defeat of Cousins' Kings.

Jodie Meeks | #20 SG | Detroit Pistons (21-33)
Despite two low scoring performances in Pistons losses on Sunday and Wednesday, Meeks poured in 18 points in a 106-78 Detroit win over the Charlotte Hornets on Tuesday.

Nerlens Noel | #4 C | Philadelphia 76ers (12-41)
In the Sixers' only game, Noel stuffed the stat sheet with 11 points, seven rebounds, four assists, a block and a steal. Philly lost to the Golden State Warriors, 89-84.

John Wall | #2 PG | Washington Wizards (33-21)

Despite re-injuring a nagging sprained ankle in a Feb. 9 win, Wall bounced back on Wednesday with 21 points and eight assists in a 95-93 loss to the Toronto Raptors on Feb. 11.

Cats in All-Star Weekend

Rising Stars Challenge
Nerlens Noel contributed four points, four rebounds, two blocks and two steals in a starting effort for Team USA in the Rising Stars Challenge. Team World, however, won the game, 121-112.

Skills Challenge
After beating defending champion Trey Burke (Jazz) in the first round, and cruising past Kyle Lowry (Raptors) in the second, Brandon Knight was defeated by Patrick Beverley (Houston Rockets) in the Skills Challenge final.

All-Star Game

In his first career All-Star starting nod, John Wall scored 19 points and dished out seven assists in the Eastern Conference's 163-158 loss to the Western Conference. Cousins added 14 points and seven rebounds off the bench for the West. Anthony Davis, who was voted a frontcourt starter for the West, sat out the weekend with a sprained shoulder.

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