Nobody in the history of McKale Center has said goodbye the way Randi Acosta said goodbye on March 14, 2002. It was a Senior Day for the ages.
In the final home meet of her UA gymnastics career — the final gymnast on the floor in a meet against Washington, Minnesota and Northern Illinois — Acosta scored a perfect 10 in the floor exercise. She remains one of just three gymnasts in school history to score a floor-exercise 10.
She blew kisses to the crowd. She cried for joy. It was like something out of a movie, but better because it was real.
“It was the best routine I could possibly give at the best moment I could possibly ask for,” Acosta said the other day, her voice choking. “Every time I think of it, even 12 years later, I get emotional.”
By the time Randi Liljenquist Acosta completed her UA gymnastics career, she held (and still holds) the school record in all-around competition and remains the only Wildcat ever to score a perfect 10 on the beam.
What she never could have imagined is that she would have to say goodbye to the UA a second time, and that this time those long-ago tears of joy would turn to tears of sadness.
A few weeks ago, Acosta told Arizona gymnastics head coach Bill Ryden that she would no longer be able to be part of the UA coaching staff. After four years of being a wife, mom and coach, after renewing vows to her alma mater — “I’ll always be a GymCat,” she says — Acosta gave in to an incredible workload and became a full-time mom.
“We have daughters ages 9 and 6 and a son who is 2,” she says. “It has never been easy coaching and being a mom – it has sometimes taken a toll – but now I’m outnumbered. It was very emotional when I told Bill I had to leave.”
Randi Acosta left a significant legacy with Tucson gymnastics. Before attending Canyon del Oro High School, she trained under Olympic coach Yoichi Tomita at Tucson’s Gymnastics World and for two years was a teammate of 1996 Olympic gold medalist Kerri Strug.
She had scholarship offers to attend ASU and BYU, but chose to stay home and make the best of it.
Acosta set herself apart at Arizona, becoming one of just two gymnasts in school history to score perfect 10’s in multiple events, the beam and floor exercise. She was twice a first-team All-Pac-10 gymnast, twice an All-American and in 2002 was the NCAA Regional Gymnast of the Year.
“Honestly, there were times I would say ‘Randi, how do you do it?’ ” says Ryden. “Coaching isn’t a 9 to 5 job, but Randi handled it as well as you can. She sort of lived the whole dream.”
It wasn’t as easy as just driving down the street and going back to her old school.
At the time she became a UA coach, with two young daughters, Randi and her husband, Roberto Acosta, a Salpointe Catholic grad, were living in Phoenix. She worked part time coaching young gymnasts in the Phoenix area. But to return to the UA, Roberto would have to leave his job of 12 years and find work in Tucson.
Roberto commuted to Phoenix for almost a year; he ultimately became a sales manager at NBC Universal/Telemundo in Tucson. They would make it work.
Inside the UA athletic department, it’s not rare that working moms do as much juggling as coaching/working. Associate athletic director Erika Barnes is married to PGA Tour caddie Andy Barnes. Women’s golf coach Laura Ianello is married to Jeff Ianello, who is the Phoenix Suns’ vice president of sales. Both couples have infant children and job responsibilities that go beyond 40-hour weeks.
The Acostas made it work for four years. Recently, Roberto accepted an executive position for Southern Wines & Spirits, which is based in Phoenix.
“He made the move to Tucson so I could coach at the UA and be part of the program for four more years,” Randi says. “He was a full-time dad on many weekends when I was coaching. It was sometimes difficult, but we managed.”
After leaving the UA in 2002, Acosta became an acrobat at Sea World. She then got married, moved to Phoenix, started a family. That was Chapter II. She now begins her post-UA career, Chapter IV.
“I always wanted to give back to the UA because it gave so much to me” she says. “That’s why I was so eager to come back and be part of Bill’s coaching staff.”
How’d she do? By 2012, she was selected the NCAA South Central Regional assistant coach of the year.
Acosta’s name is displayed in the McKale Center Ring of Honor for perpetuity. You could say she left a considerable legacy. Twice.