Women's Watch: Illinois' LeDuc a self-starter on the mat

Floor exercise is gymnast Lizzy LeDuc's favorite event.

The Illinois sophomore won it as part of a four-event triumph last week in a quad meet against Rutgers, UIC and Eastern Michigan. Her performance earned her Big Ten gymnast of the week honors and helped Illinois (4-2) get another win.

"I love performing in front of everyone," said LeDuc, who qualified for the NCAA Championships last season. "I would do that after church with my sisters. We'd be in dresses doing cartwheels."

The LeDuc girls would tumble and flip outside at home, too, as a break from their school day. LeDuc and her five siblings, who spent most of their formative years in the Dallas area, were home-schooled, which came in handy when LeDuc became a serious gymnast.

"I used to want to go to school and be a normal kid," LeDuc said. "But (in high school) I started going to this gymnastics center where I was training every day, twice a day. It was intense, and I realized that home-schooling really worked for me.

"I think home-school has actually helped me (be a better gymnast). It's helped me be on my own, and sometimes you're on your own at the gym and you have to be a self-starter."

LeDuc was on an educational program in which she taught herself material by watching DVDs. She completed online assignments and sent them to a school in Florida that would give her grades and track her progress.

"I loved being home-schooled. I think it got me ready for college."

So did competing on the Philippine national team. LeDuc is half Filipina. She tried out and made the national team there in 2014. She competed in some international events but foot injuries slowed her progress.

LeDuc is healthy now.

"I've gotten off to a great start this year," LeDuc said. "I'm pretty happy with what I've been doing. I'm hitting my routines in practice and I feel like everything is coming together."

LeDuc was starting from a good place. As a freshman, LeDuc qualified for the 2016 NCAA Championships after earning the floor title in the Salt Lake City regional with a career-high 9.950 in the event. That was the Illini's highest floor score of the season.

"There's always room for improvement," LeDuc said. "But I'm happy what I've been able to do so far.

"I've been having fun and I have great teammates who always cheer me on. I think that's why I'm able to do so well."

Twitter: @babcockmcgraw

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