By SCOTT RABALAIS, Written for the LSWA
In her entire gymnastics career at LSU, Susan Jackson never got a perfect 10.
For her former coach, that just doesn’t match the recollections she has of one of the best LSU ever had.
“In my memory she’s a 10,” D-D Breaux said. “So many incredible performances in the clutch.”
In a program whose history is filled with glittering stars, Jackson’s accomplishments shine brightest. She’s the only three-time NCAA individual champion ever at LSU, and to date the only Tiger to win the coveted NCAA all-around title, in addition to a pair of Southeastern Conference titles and 12 All-American honors.
“She was groundbreaking for a program that wasn’t really ranked,” said McKenna Kelley, another former LSU All-American who like Jackson grew up in Houston and trained at the same gym. “She helped build that.”
Jackson will be one of nine athletes and coaches enshrined in the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame June 23-25 in Natchitoches. Three contributors are also part of the Class of 2022. For participation opportunities and information, visit LaSportsHall.com or call 318-238-4255.
“It’s a huge honor,” said Jackson, who was alongside her coach when Breaux was inducted in 2017. She is only the second competitive gymnast to enter the Hall, following Centenary Olympian Kathy Johnson Clarke in 1996.
Like a lot of gymnasts, Jackson started early.
“I was a pretty obnoxious toddler,” she said. “I was swinging from closet rods and balance beaming on the back of the couch. To save the house and myself from destruction, my parents put me somewhere with the safety of mats and coaches who could supervise me.
“I watch videos now of when I was 3 at the gym close to home. The form I had on my back handsprings was perfect.”
Jackson started training at Stars Gymnastics in Houston with the goal of competing in the 2004 Athens Olympics. By 11 she was doing gymnastics at the elite level, and by 12 she made the U.S. National Team.
Jackson finished fourth in the 2005 Elite National Classic in the all-around, fifth in the 2001 USA Championships, and third in the 2000 Junior Pan-American Games. Jackson didn’t quite make it to the Olympics, but she started being recruited by a host of top college programs.
Although LSU wasn’t a top gymnastics school, “they started recruiting me, and it was about how the coaches treated me,” Jackson said. “I felt they cared about me as Susan, not just the athlete.”
Along with another of LSU’s greatest gymnastics champions, Ashleigh Clare-Kearney Thigpen, the Tigers finally made their drive to the top.
“When you have someone of that caliber on the team with you,” said Clare-Kearney Thigpen, LSU’s winningest gymnast with 114 individual titles including two NCAA championships in 2009 on floor and vault, “it pushes you to be your best.”
In 2008, Jackson and Clare-Kearney led LSU to its first Super Six appearance; the Tigers finished fifth overall, and Jackson won her first NCAA individual title, in the vault with a 9.8563 average score.
In 2009, the Tigers finished sixth, then came up just short of the Super Six in 2010, Jackson’s senior year, but she stole the show individually. In a year where she tied the single-season school record for most vault titles (12) and set a record for most all-around titles (11, surpassed by Sarah Finnegan in 2019 with 14), she won the NCAA balance beam and all-around titles with scores of 9.9625 and 39.625, respectively.
Jackson went on to win the 2010 Gymnastics Honda Award and the 2010 AAI Award, considered the Heisman of women’s college gymnastics given to the nation’s top senior. A national runner-up on beam that year as well, she was also named SEC gymnast and athlete of the year.
After LSU, Jackson performed all over Europe with Cirque du Soleil, eventually visiting 37 countries over 2½ years. Today, Jackson works as a business developer for an industrial contractor in Houston, relocating from Baton Rouge early this year.
“If you know Texans, we’re very proud,” she said. “They say you can take the girl out of Texas, but you can’t take the Texas out of the girl. I was mistaken in that. Louisiana is something special. It’s half of me now.”
Artwork by CHRIS BROWN, Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame