COLUMBIA — The Missouri gymnastics team started its 30th season Saturday at Hearnes Center. Liz Straatmann started her last.
Straatmann, a junior with a year of NCAA eligibility beyond this season, is retiring after this season because of her knees.
“I know my body is done,” said Straatmann, who helped the black squad to a 189.650-177.900 victory over the gold squad in its intrasquad meet Saturday. “I know this is what has to happen.”
Straatmann began her gymnastics career at the age 9 in her hometown of Washington, Mo. She was traveling 45 minutes each way to practice in St. Louis three years later.
Before her sophomore year of high school, Straatmann moved to Kansas City, where she could train at the GAGE gym. She trained with MU teammates Alicia Hatcher, Adrianne Perry and Sarah Shire.
Straatmann’s family remained on the other side of Missouri, more than three hours away.
“It was a big decision for our family,” she said. “It was hard for me and for my family. The new family that I lived with had a completely different lifestyle.”
Her knees began falling apart after that. Straatmann tore the anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus in her right knee at the age of 15. A year later, she needed surgery to repair her meniscus in her right knee again. Straatmann had surgery to repair the ACL and medial collateral ligament in her left knee a few months later. Earlier this year, she had surgery on her right meniscus again.
“The doctor was apprehensive about this season,” Straatmann said. “My knee is just not stable. The ACL is a little loose, which hurts other things in my knee. I just want to be active when I get older.”
Straatmann will undergo her fifth knee surgery in May. She decided to retire because if she continued doing gymnastics, she could suffer from arthritis among other things.
“We talked at the start of the year if she should do gymnastics this year,” MU gymnastics coach Rob Drass said. “It’s hard to tell an athlete no and crush her hopes and dreams. Liz is a tough kid. She wanted to do it.”
That could be exemplified by her performance Saturday. Straatmann, who is limited to performing only the bars routine, fell during her performance and landed awkwardly. She stood up and continued her routine.
“I asked her if she had hurt her knee,” said Drass, who was standing alongside her. “I asked her if she was all right, and she said, ‘Yeah.’ I spotted her the rest of the way to make sure she landed right. Sometimes when adrenaline is going, athletes aren’t going to realize they really are hurt.”
Straatmann scored a 8.65.
“Hopefully, I can stay healthy (this season),” she said. “I’m going to be competing and working every day. I’ve got to put in work every day to improve.”