COLUMBIA — In 2004, Missouri sophomore gymnast Sarah Shire was at the Gaylord Entertainment Center in Nashville, Tenn., competing in the U.S. National Gymnastics Championships. Shire and 30 of the best gymnasts in the country were all vying for 14 spots to advance to the U.S. Olympic Team Trials.
Shire had one of her better meets but placed 15th, barely missing the opportunity to travel to Anaheim, Calif., for the trials. Her performance was rewarded by being named first alternate, but it was still a disappointment for a gymnast who had dreamed about the Olympics since she was 8 years old.
However, Shire’s hopes didn’t end until just before the trials.
“After we got home, I had got my mind set that I was done (with the Olympic dreams) and my next step was going to be in the World Championships in 2005,” Shire said. “I had unwound my brain a little bit, and I found out three days before the meet that I was going (to the team trials).”
An injury to another gymnast allowed Shire to travel to the trials, where the injured gymnast was still deciding whether to perform. Until the day of the meet came, Shire had no idea if she would be competing.
When the injured gymnast started her routine on the uneven bars, Shire knew her Olympic dreams were officially over. Even though the other gymnast fell during her routine and dropped out, because the other gymnast had touched the equipment, Shire was left out.
Shire, healthy and obviously frustrated, had ambivalent feelings about her experience.
“It was disappointing because I got so close, but at the same time it wasn’t disappointing because I got so close,” Shire said. “I didn’t go to GAGE (Great American Gymnastic Express) until I was 13 years old, so I had been behind from the start. So just to be on the same level as Terin (Humphrey) and Courtney (McCool) was amazing for me.”
While at GAGE, an elite gymnastics training center in Blue Springs, Shire became best friends with Humphrey and McCool, and said she could not have been happier that they made the Olympics.
“I grew up with those girls. We spent 40 hours a week in the gym together,” Shire said. “I knew everything about them, knew their families, been to their houses. It meant a lot to me to watch them succeed.”
But it was still hard for Shire to be so close to the Olympics. She hoped to remain low key and sporadically watch the Olympics, but with limited access to the athletes during Olympics, media outlets in Kansas City asked Shire to talk to McCool and Humphrey, and report about their experiences.
When Shire watched the Olympics, she could not help but picture herself performing in Athens.
“It was hard for me to watch and hard for me to accept it,” Shire said. “But at the same time, I was so proud of the girls. They earned second place and did an amazing (job).”
McCool and Humphrey earned silver medals in the team competition and Humphrey received a silver medal for her uneven bars performance.
When the Olympics finished, Shire finally had time to get over her disappointment. While the emotional healing took time, the Olympic training was a great learning tool for her.
“I think I learned a lot about myself. I can accomplish a lot when I put my mind to it,” Shire said. “I realized that experience at one point made me hate gymnastics so much, and at the same time made me realize how much I loved it.”
The rigorous training behind her, Shire retired from elite competition in 2005. After her elite career ended, Shire was finally able to relax and become more like a normal teenager, which helped open her eyes to a new life.
“My senior year of high school, I went on a religious retreat,” Shire said. “It helped me open up and realize gymnastics wasn’t my life and there are so many more things beyond that. It really helped me move on and look toward new things.”
Shire has finally settled down. After traveling all across the U.S. and as far as Japan for gymnastics competitions, then spending her freshman year of college at Utah, the Hartsburg native says she feels settled after transferring back home to Missouri.
“I told my parents out of high school, ‘I am never going to live in Missouri and never going to be here,’” Shire said. “And after a year (of being at MU), I love being here. I don’t want to be anywhere else. Being in Columbia is home to me.”
For Shire, her gymnastics career had been about pressure to perform well for her country. But now, she performs for herself and her team, and emphasizes enjoying a pressure-filled sport.
“I feel like I am a happier person, I live every day a lot more full now,” Shire said. “I have so much fun doing gymnastics and I realize I am going to achieve my goals whether or not I have fun and so in my opinion, ‘Why not have fun while trying to get stuff done?’”
Shire is tied for sixth in the national rankings for the floor exercise and is 19th in the vault. She also has won three all-around titles at meets this year and is an integral part of the Tigers’ success on and off the floor.
“With her previous stop at Utah, where they finished second in the nation, she knows what it takes to get to the National Championships and that is one of our goals and she really helps the team to know what it takes to get there,” MU coach Rob Drass said. “She has quite a pedigree coming in and I think that experience and level of competition helps the rest of the team be confident.”