COLUMBIA — Junior Adrianne Perry and the Missouri gymnastics team spent the morning of April 11 at the Baton Rouge Zoo in Louisiana. The Tigers hurried through the zoo because it was the day before the NCAA Regionals and the team had other obligations. But they did manage to stop at the gift shop.
Perry and her teammates played with plastic snakes and stuffed animals. Perry took a stuffed rat and whizzed it past her roommate for the weekend, sophomore Becky Scholle, who shrieked in terror and then started laughing when Perry showed her the rat was fake.
However, Perry’s fun was not over. Scholle bought a giraffe mask that came complete with eye slits and even ossicones, the hair-covered “horns” of giraffes. Before the team meeting that night, Perry, Scholle, sophomore Danielle Guider and junior Alicia Hatcher huddled in one of their hotel rooms of the Baton Rouge Marriott.
Perry and Guider hoisted Scholle, with the giraffe mask covering her face, onto their shoulders. Then, they took a white sheet from Guider’s bed and covered their bodies. Hatcher, acting as a guide, walked the three gymnasts from the room into the elevator and eventually to the team meeting. As they entered the room, Scholle started to act like a giraffe and their teammates laughed hysterically.
“It was just kind of goofy,” Missouri coach Rob Drass said. “They’re just fun loving goofy kids that know how to have fun in a good way.”
During meets Perry is the ultimate competitor, but off the floor, she is much more lighthearted. Perry says her sense of humor helps her concentrate at the most crucial times during competition.
“She doesn’t get too uptight about anything,” Drass said. “She’s focused when she needs to be focused, and she’s able to let go when she needs to let go. I think that it (her sense of humor) helps her focus overall because it hones your ability to tune in when you need to tune in.”
Perry often performs her best against the top competition. She won the Big 12 All-Around championship this season beating the No. 3 and No. 11 ranked gymnasts in the country. She also owns a 12-7-1 record against National Championship qualifying gymnasts.
Because of her relaxed nature, in the days leading up to meets, Perry says she doesn’t overthink and psyche herself out. In gymnastics, she says if you start thinking you might fall or trip up in a routine, you likely will. Negative thoughts lead to negative results.
On meet days, Perry’s mind is fresh and ready to focus completely on her routines. Competing in all four events, Perry says she’s always thinking ahead to the next event, not on past ones.
Perry also has the most pressure to succeed for the Tigers. Being one of Missouri’s three all-arounders and its lone national qualifier, she is expected to put up the Tigers’ top score and lead them to victory. With so much demanded of her, she could succumb to the expectations, but doesn’t because of her great balance off the floor.
Perry hopes her teammates see her as a role model.
“I just want to show the younger gymnasts that you can work hard, but at the same time have fun while working hard,” Perry said. “But there are times where you need to buckle down and get the job done.”
For Perry, trying to balance on a four-inch wide beam or flipping and twisting in mid-air while trying to land on your feet during competition is mentally draining. Add to the fact that she has been practicing four to five days a week for up to four hours a day since September, and the many hours in the gym are physically draining. Perry says she could not keep motivated without having fun off the floor.
“It’s a sport, especially being a student-athlete, it’s kind of our job,” Perry said. “If it’s all work, the job doesn’t become fun. I have to have fun to enjoy gymnastics.”
However, when times become difficult in gymnastics, whether from an injury or a difficult meet, interacting lightheartedly with teammates can help Perry refocus her energy toward her next competition rather than sulking and dwelling on the past.
“If you focus too much on gymnastics, you miss out on the fun parts of it,” Perry said. “Then if you have a bump in the road, it can really break your spirits, you can’t be too serious all the time.”
Hatcher, who went to high school with Perry at Blue Spring High School, says Perry has always had a great balance of relaxation and concentration.
“If you don’t allow yourself to balance your life, you can get so self-absorbed in one aspect of your life that other parts of your life fall,” Hatcher said. “She knows when to work hard and when to have fun. Finding that balance has been the key to her success.”
Hatcher recalls that after an away meet this season, the team finished packing up their belongings and headed onto the bus. Despite having just competed, Perry’s energy was still up. In the back of the bus, the gymnastics team created a “club unleashed” going along with MU athletics’ slogan of “Mizzou unleashed.”
Their “club” came equipped with audio speakers and a CD player. Perry had on a white tank top and loose gray sweatpants with the string of the sweatpants stretched to fit around her neck. She started dancing to the music and goofing around with a big smile on her face. Perry’s mind was already off the meet and onto having fun off with her teammates.
“I hear her laughing all the time,” Drass said. “If there’s a group laughing or if there’s a group having fun, usually Adrianne’s right in the middle of it.”