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‘I Belong Here’: Gymnast Finds Home in the Classroom, on the Mat

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Jordyn Reiland


Jordyn Reiland writer

Rylie Mundell is graduating with a physics degree and minors in mathematics, sociology, and business ethics and legal studies—but she’s not going anywhere.

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Rylie Mundell poses for a photo.

The Ritchie Center was a second home for Rylie Mundell long before she became a University of Denver student-athlete.

Having grown up in Parker, Colorado, Mundell fondly recalls attending DU gymnastics meets as a child when they were held in Hamilton Gymnasium before moving to Magness Arena. She also attended gymnastics camps hosted by the University and often tagged along when her brother, Jackson, participated in the school’s hockey camps.

Mundell competed at the Ritchie Center at least once a year for about a decade with her gymnastics club team—further cementing the connection she’d developed with DU.

“I belong here; it doesn’t make sense to go anywhere else,” she recalls mentioning in her application essay.

Since the fall of 2020, Mundell has made the most of her time in Denver. She will soon graduate with a bachelor’s degree in physics with minors in mathematics, sociology, and business ethics and legal studies.

In addition to her studies, Mundell received a summer research grant after her freshman year, participated in the Daniels Ethics Fellowship during her sophomore year and interned at NASA the summer before her senior year.

She also helped lead the DU gymnastics team to its first first-ever Big 12 Conference Championship in 2021 and its second NCAA Regional Championship in 2023.

“She really could’ve gone anywhere in the country—she’s an incredible athlete. She chose to stay here. She chose to come to DU, and she’s always been so committed to the university and this program,” gymnastics head coach Melissa Kutcher-Rinehart says.

While Mundell is ready in some ways to close this four-year chapter, she’s not quite ready to say goodbye to the place she’s called home for most of her life. She has decided to return for a fifth year of eligibility in 2024-25 and will pursue a graduate certificate in geographic information systems (GIS).

Rylie the student

It was something one of Mundell’s high school teachers said during her junior year that ultimately helped her decide to major in physics.

“He opened up the class by telling us that no matter what we wanted to do, physics was one of the most important classes we would take in high school because it would help us with our problem-solving skills, which would apply anywhere,” she says.

Mundell has appreciated the smallness of the physics program at DU, as it has allowed her to frequently have one-on-one interactions with her professors.

“You also have the opportunity to do research, it’s available to any student who’s interested, which is super cool, and you don’t see that in big programs,” she says.

Mundell was awarded a research grant the summer of 2021 that allowed her to study physics with a focus on laser optics alongside Mark Siemens, professor and associate chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy.

Her goal during her first year of college, which was in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, was to make one meaningful connection with a professor—and Siemens “really got things started off on the right foot for me.”

"Rylie exhibited remarkable resilience and persistence in the face of the inevitable challenges and frustrations of hands-on research ... she made meaningful progress, and her work was acknowledged in a paper from my group that was peer-reviewed and published," he says.

Mundell’s favorite class at DU was the Daniels Ethics Fellowship. The yearlong program allowed her and her classmates to design service-based projects.

Their first project was a rock-climbing event for middle schoolers that simultaneously taught them various ethics and values principles. Mundell’s second project involved working with Colorado nonprofits and families on different projects like blanket tying and creating care packages for unhoused individuals.

Outside of the classroom, Mundell had the chance to spend eight weeks in California last summer by participating in NASA’s Student Airborne Research Program (SARP).

During the internship, Mundell flew on a NASA aircraft and presented a final project titled, "Landsat Mission Reveals Nearly 50 Years of New Zealand Giant Kelp Forest Dynamics."

“I think I'm most proud of the fact that I didn't limit myself to one area of study, and I tried out a lot of different things,” she says.

Rylie the teammate

Rylie Mundell competes on the beam.
Credit: Tyler Schank

Mundell’s accomplishments on the mat are just as impressive as those in the classroom.

A two-time Big 12 individual champion and the 2024 Big 12 Event Specialist of the Year, she regularly competed on the vault and bars all four seasons—and is looking to do even more as an "all-around" competitor in 2024-25.

On all four events, she has set personal bests in the 9.900 range, including near perfect scores of 9.975 on bars and beam.

She was named a 2023 College Sports Communicators Academic All-American, given to just a handful of athletes across multiple sports throughout the country and was a three-time Women's Collegiate Gymnastics Association (WCGA) Scholastic All-American. Additionally, Mundell was a two-time Academic All-Big 12 Conference team member.

Mundell joins Rosie Casali, Bella Mabanta and Abbie Thompson as four gymnasts who will return to DU for their fifth year.

“Through her academics, her leadership, her athleticism, her work ethic and her mentorship, it’s pretty phenomenal to have watched her grow,” Kutcher-Rinehart says. “She is absolutely that full and complete package.”