The Student News Site of University of Arizona

The Daily Wildcat

77° Tucson, AZ

The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    “For the best athletes, look inside the Mary Roby GTC”

    Michael Fitzpatrick - Sports writer
    Michael Fitzpatrick – Sports writer

    What defines the best athlete? Is it being able to throw a football 75 yards in the air? Or is it being able to run a 4.5 in the 40-yard dash? Don’t think so.

    Does being able to dribble through defenders and posterize a 6-foot-7 guy mean you have the most agility or the best balance? Try again.

    Or is it being able to flip and cartwheel on a four-inch wide beam and not fall off? Or vault 10-plus feet in the air, flip and tumble a few times and land on you own two feet?

    I’ll take the latter two all day long.

    The best Arizona athletes get treatment in McKale Center and train right next door. And no, not in Arizona Stadium, but in the state-of-the-art Mary Roby Gymnastics Training Center.

    To be a competitive gymnast at the club level, let alone in college, you need to have been training for 10-20 hours a week since you were four or five years old. Junior Alexis Greene has been in gymnastics since she was three years old, sophomore Miranda Russell since she was 18 months, senior Karin Wurm since she was six, and so on.

    “”No one ever just plays gymnastics,”” Greene said with a laugh. “”You’re not like ‘Hey, on my day off let’s go have a little pickup gymnastics game.’ It’s like, ‘No.’ You can play pickup basketball or football or baseball, but you can’t just go play gymnastics. A normal person can’t do it. You would literally need to train in order to do it.””

    You need exceptional balance, upper-body strength and endurance. You need to be focused for every second of every event. Any loss of concentration for even a split-second could lead to a fall or an injury.

    “”Nobody is going to save you,”” said UA head coach Bill Ryden. “”When you are on the vault or the bars and are 10 feet in the air, no one is going to help you. It’s all on you.””

    For many gymnasts, college is the end of the line because of the sport’s physical demands. The current female world champion is 16-year old Shawn Johnson of West Des Moines, Iowa. A vast majority of U.S. gymnasts who compete in international events do so before college.

    In gymnastics, one reaches his or her prime during the mid-to-late teen years, and college is often the culmination of a career, not the beginning, as it is for sports such as basketball and football.

    The reason that a 22- or 23-year-old senior in college is old by gymnastics standards ðis because of the immense physical tolls that the body takes on a daily basis. Gymnasts spend more time trying to get healthy than any other sport combined, because gymnastics is one of the few sports were the body is tool.

    Ryden compared it to trying to hammer nails with a broken hammerhead.

    “”If one of the girls rolls their ankle getting out of their car,”” he said, “”they could miss six to eight weeks. That’s not that big of an injury in other sports, but in this sport, if your body isn’t 100 percent, you performance will show it.””

    Many of the Gymcats spend four to six hours per week in the trainer’s room just trying to stay on the floor. If they have an extra injury, it could easily double. Performing without pain in some part of the body is about as rare as the mercury hitting 100 degrees in Phoenix in July.

    Every collegiate sport is difficult and all sports require great athleticism to be performed at such a high level. But, until I see Jerryd Bayless or Willie Tuitama perform any routine on any apparatus – the vault, beam, bars or floor – UA’s best athletes are the 13 members of the Arizona gymnastics team.

    More to Discover
    Activate Search