Gymnast Hatcher travels long road to reach Missouri

Wednesday, April 9, 2008 | 10:51 p.m. CDT; updated 8:34 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Alicia Hatcher was named All-Conference on the uneven bars and was named to the Big 12 All-Academic first team for the second year in a row.

COLUMBIA — Growing up, Missouri junior gymnast Alicia Hatcher idolized her cousin Tricia Shaw and wanted to be like her in every way. When they were at their grandmother’s house, Hatcher made sure she played the same game or did the same activity as her cousin.

One day, Hatcher attended her cousin’s recreational gymnastics class. From the sidelines she watched her 8-year-old cousin perform beginner gymnastics moves. Then, the 4-year-old Hatcher pointed at her cousin and told her mom, “I want to do that.”

Since Shaw was in gymnastics, Hatcher needed to be in gymnastics too.

Hatcher was an energetic child, always running and jumping around, so gymnastics was a perfect avenue to let out her energy. She started gymnastics at Dave’s Gymnastics Factory in Lee’s Summit when she was 4. It was soon clear that gymnastics and Hatcher were a perfect combination. After practice ended when the other children started to leave with their parents, Hatcher remained and continued to hang on the bars and walk on the balance beam.

“My mom would have to drag me out of the gym,” Hatcher said. “My coaches would say ‘you have to leave now, we’re closing the doors, you have to get out of here.’”

Hatcher’s cousin did not have success as a gymnast and eventually quit the sport. However, Hatcher thrived, and though her devotion to gymnastics would be tested, she persevered to become one of the nation’s best.

In her beginners class, the coaches saw the potential in Hatcher and moved her to the fast-track program, where she became a dedicated gymnast, not just a recreational one. Soon she became too advanced for Dave’s and moved to Great American Gymnastic Express, a top-level training facility in Blue Springs,

But being such a gifted gymnast had consequences. At GAGE, Hatcher was in the elite training program, which forced her to go to school for half-days because the training was so demanding. In sixth grade, Hatcher became overworked and a sport she loved became a sport she hated.

“Honestly, I was miserable,” Hatcher said. “I didn’t like it and it wasn’t for me. It worked for some people, but not for me. I just felt like I had no outside life.”

She also had persistent ankle problems and because of the extreme competition and her immense dedication, Hatcher never took time off to heal her injuries for fear of falling behind the other gymnasts.

“She’s had a really bad ankle basically her entire life,” said sophomore Sarah Shire, a teammate of Hatcher at GAGE and now at Missouri. “Since I’ve known her at GAGE, I’ve never seen somebody sprain an ankle so bad.”

Frustrated with the demands of the elite program, Hatcher quit. She told her coaches that she could not continue because she had no outside life. She decided to come back a week later, but now she practiced in the level 10 group at GAGE, a training program more focused on college gymnastics.

“I’m glad that it happened because I don’t think I would’ve made it in the elite group,” Hatcher said. “I wouldn’t have been happy, I would’ve gotten hurt, and I would’ve regretted it. It definitely was a good decision for me.”

With a renewed spirit and an outside life, Hatcher rediscovered her love for gymnastics and became a Junior Olympics national qualifier.

Her dedication to the sport was again tested as a junior at Blue Springs High School. A swimming and diving coach at the school tried to persuade Hatcher and GAGE training partner and current teammate Adrianne Perry to switch sports, or at least perform both, and become divers.

“We have good air awareness and we know how to do flips already,” Hatcher said. “Gymnastics and diving are very similar because you do the same kinds of things.”

The coach was adamant that the two gymnasts could help their school win a state championship in diving. He offered to work around their schedules and help them whenever they could practice. Knowing the goal in gymnastics is landing on your feet, the coach even offered to create dives that would let them land on their feet rather than their head.

Hatcher barely entertained the idea because she was too committed to her gymnastics. Junior year was also when she focused on college scholarships. Although she wanted to attend Michigan after visiting its facility, Michigan did not offer Hatcher a scholarship. However, she received an offer from her home-state school, MU, and accepted it.

“I couldn’t be happier that it happened that way,” Hatcher said. “This is a program that’s on the rise. I’m in the journalism school, which is where I want to be, and I‘m close to home.”

At MU, Hatcher has become the epitome of a student-athlete, extremely devoted in and outside of the gym as a magazine journalism major.

“I think Alicia’s very focused, she’s very dedicated and she’s a perfectionist,” Missouri gymnastics coach Rob Drass said. “She wants to do things well every single time, I think those are good traits, but I think it’s a matter of channeling them in the right direction so they can be most advantageous.”

Shire, who will be roommates with Hatcher next year, agrees with her coach.

“She takes her gymnastics very seriously,” Shire said. “She’s a perfectionist. She works over and over again and when we all think something looks good, she doesn’t think it’s good enough.”

Striving for perfection has helped Hatcher be named All-Conference in the uneven bars and to the Big 12 All-Academic first-team for the second consecutive season, the latter of which in her only two eligible seasons. She also was ranked in the top 20 in the country on the uneven bars during the season.

Hatcher hopes to be a role model for younger gymnasts and help build MU’s program.

“You want to be the person that really propels the team to the next level,” Hatcher said. “You want to make a difference, do something positive, and I think at Missouri that’s a very realistic possibility.”

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