COLUMBIA — Missouri senior gymnast Lisa Puccio was performing on the balance beam during the 2006 Black and Gold meet when she landed awkwardly on her right knee. She felt some pain, but continued to perform in the meet.
The next event was the floor exercise and Puccio performed a tumble. However, when she landed, she sat down and knew something was wrong. After visiting a doctor, Puccio found out she tore her ACL and her junior season was done.
“It was really tough because my junior year was going to be a breakout season for me,” Puccio said. “I didn’t really get any of the opportunities that I was hoping for because that (torn ACL) happened so early in the season.”
Now a senior, Puccio’s value to the Tiger gymnastics team does not show up on the score sheet. She leads with her experience and also contributes as the team’s unofficial hair stylist, an interest that started with her mother.
“My mom did everyone’s hair when we were in club,” Puccio said. “I guess I kind of just learned from her.”
Puccio started styling her teammates’ hair as a freshman, beginning with current-senior Nikki Bowman. But as other teammates saw Nikki’s hair, Puccio’s client list grew. She has styled the hair of as many as eight of her fellow Tigers for a single meet and has a specific style for each gymnast.
“Certain people like certain things,” Puccio said. “I always French braid Ashley’s (Khederian) hair, I always pull Nikki’s back and the same for Becky (Scholle).”
Even for meets on the road, Puccio styles hair in her hotel room, and although she admits it does become hectic at times, she enjoys it. Because Puccio has been styling teammates’ hair for four years, it has become a routine for each meet.
“It’s almost a ritual because I am used to doing it every meet,” Puccio said. “It makes them ready to compete because you compete better when you know that you look better.”
According to members of the gymnastics team, believing you look good is an underrated aspect of the mental part of gymnastics.
“We always talk about how if you don’t feel like you look good, you won’t be able to compete well,” senior Ashley Khederian said. “If I couldn’t have (my hair) done, I would be thinking about other things instead of gymnastics.”
Since this season is Puccio’s last with the Tigers, she is passing the torch to sophomore Meghann Raub. When Puccio is busy, Raub does the styling and says she will gladly accept the role of hair stylist next year.
While Puccio’s hairstyles last on her teammates for just the length of the meets, the lasting mark she leaves on them is through her persistence to fight back from such a devastating injury.
“An ACL injury is a huge injury and something really hard to overcome,” said Raub. “She could have easily quit and said ‘I only have one year left,’ but she stuck with it.”
Puccio has helped the younger teammates, especially the freshmen, because she simply recalls her time as a young gymnast when giving advice.
“I just have to remember what it was like for me to be a freshman,” Puccio said. “It can be difficult at times and kind of scary, but just teaching them the way (of college gymnastics) is how to help.”
Missouri head coach Rob Drass also sees Puccio’s value. Although her senior season has been slowed because of her injury and she is limited to the uneven bars, she sets a great example for her teammates.
“She leads by example in many ways,” Drass said. “She’s a great student, great person and has a good head on her shoulders.”