It isn’t uncommon for athletes to build relationships with each other. They often occupy the same study spaces and workout centers, and understand each other’s busy schedules. It is rare, however, for a college romance to grow into a marriage where both partners come back to coach at Penn.
For Kirsten and Ryan Becker, that is exactly how their love story played out: from star athletes to coaches.
The two first met through mutual friends when one of Kirsten’s teammates was dating one of Ryan’s. They began hanging out a couple of times in that same circle, playing video games, and seeing each other at the same events. Although they met relatively early in their college careers, nothing happened for the two until much later.
After establishing a friendship and crossing paths a couple of times, Ryan finally asked Kirsten out on a date in December of Kirsten’s senior year, right before winter break.
“I remember it even now, just because I had so much fun. Our conversation was pretty effortless, and we just had a good time,” Kirsten said.
The two clicked immediately and even the impending winter break didn’t interrupt their connection. They continued talking throughout the break and in January they picked up where they left off.
That following May in 2013, Kirsten finished her collegiate gymnastics career with two consecutive Ivy Classic championships and two Eastern College Athletics Conference championships. The two-time captain was also named Penn’s Most Valuable Gymnast twice and also Penn’s Most Inspirational Gymnast.
Meanwhile, Ryan stayed at Penn for another semester to play one more season of football. After transferring from Florida State, where he was buried in a depth chart that included future NFL quarterbacks Christian Ponder and EJ Manuel, Ryan played in 25 games for the Quakers, throwing for over 1,600 yards. He graduated as a two time Ivy League champion as quarterback.
Ryan and Kirsten’s relationship continued through graduation as the two took jobs in Florida. In 2014, Ryan began his coaching career at Florida State as the team’s offensive quality control coach. In Tallahassee, Kirsten only coached part-time, but drew inspiration from Ryan to give her all to coaching.
“It was really inspiring and motivating to see him really just go after what he wanted to do. That was what made me jump head first into coaching when the opportunity became available at Penn,” Kirsten said.
That opportunity presented itself to Kirsten in 2015 when she joined the Penn gymnastics staff as an assistant coach. After five seasons as assistant coach, Kirsten was promoted to head coach last month.
“I’m really grateful to have the Penn experience going into my new role. I’ve been in our student athletes’ shoes before,” Kirsten said. “We know the ups and downs of being a Penn student athlete and what it takes.”
Ryan joined Kirsten briefly at Penn in 2017 as the assistant director of football operations for one season before returning to Penn in 2019 as the Quakers’ tight ends coach.
In September 2017, after five years of dating, Ryan decided he was tired of waiting and was ready to propose to Kirsten. Ryan knew that Penn football played Dartmouth on a Friday night and would have a rare night off that Saturday. He circled that date on his calendar, knowing that they would have the whole day to celebrate.
Earlier in the week, he called Kirsten’s dad to get his approval, and both of her parents came into town that Saturday. After they all had breakfast that morning, they walked to City Hall where they took pictures and he popped the question. Even before the proposal, taking pictures in front of City Hall was a fixture in their relationship.
“We used to live in Center City and a lot of the time when we went on dates, we’d go and take pictures by City Hall,” Ryan said.
The two officially tied the knot in June 2018. For the couple, being able to coach together at Penn is truly a dream come true. Them being able to coach together at a school that both had open opportunities in their sports and to have that school be their alma mater has been something out of a storybook.
“The ability to walk home with your wife, to walk to work sometimes with your wife, we have a quick lunch break, or even just a 10-minute break from work, we can walk on over to each other's offices just to say ‘hello’ and see each other during the day,” Ryan said.
It’s being able to see each other during the day and have those little moments that other couples may not have, that is what makes their relationship even more special. Although they coach two different teams, they make quite the team of their own at home.
“During her season, I have to take a bigger role in getting things done around the house. During football season, she takes on a bigger role around the house,” Ryan said.
Their sports being in two different seasons not only works logistically around the house, but it gives them the opportunity to take in each other’s competitions.
“We’re both very supportive of each other’s sports. I don’t miss many meets, and she doesn’t miss many games,” Ryan said. “It’s great to have that kind of support, and we’re both passionate about each other’s sport.”
At the end of the day, they’re both coaches and work hard for a win for their teams. At home, they bounce ideas off of each other and try to learn from each other’s coaching experience.
“I know I learned a lot from her, and I hope she's learned some things from me,” Ryan said.
Kirsten and Ryan’s love story started at Penn in 2012 with them both competing as athletes. Now, eight years later, their love story continues back at the place where it started. They’re still competing, but this time on the sidelines, leading a new generation of Quakers.