COLUMBIA — Missouri gymnast Alex Gold knew she couldn’t let it affect her. But it did.
It was late March when Gold learned that her two best friends on the gymnastics team would not be returning to the team the next year. It was the end of the season, and there were still meets left on the schedule. Gold said that though she knew she had to focus on competing, the news affected her.
Gold, Lauren Stephenson and Lisa LaPerriere joined the Tigers for the 2007-08 season and bonded immediately.
“At the beginning, we all really hit it off,” Gold said. “We were all really close.”
Fast forward to the end of last season. Gold said Stephenson’s foot had been a problem, limiting her ability to compete. LaPerriere was doubting that she still wanted to compete. Both Stephenson and LaPerriere started hinting they could decide not to return to the team for their junior years.
When the two informed Gold that they were officially finished, Gold understood, but couldn’t hide her emotions.
“When they saw me cry, they knew I was upset,” Gold said. “I can’t really be mad at them of course, but I didn’t really know how to react.”
The three women were more than teammates. Gold said they were, and are, best friends. They still live together, even though Stephenson and LaPerriere are no longer on the team.
“I think that’s hard when Alex lives with those two kids and went from living with a household of three gymnasts to now one,” Missouri coach Rob Drass said. “That becomes more difficult for Alex.”
Gold said the three women’s friendship has stayed just as strong even though they no longer share the gymnastics team. Stephenson and LaPerriere ask Gold how practice went when she returns home for the day. When it goes poorly, Gold is able to vent.
The difference between this year and last is that Gold is used to having the other two at practice for morale support. She said she remembers having hard days on the balance beam, and Stephenson and LaPerriere were always there to say exactly the right thing to help.
Gold said that though she is now the only junior on the team, she knows she has the rest of her teammates to count on. But one of the results of the situation that hurt her the most was knowing she would have to experience her senior season alone.
“They were my best friends on the team, and they’re not going to be here the next two years,” she said. “Especially my senior season, because I know it’s all about me now, I guess, but I wanted to share it with someone else.”
Because she will be the only senior next season, Gold knows she will need to step up into a leadership role. Drass said that though he expects everyone on the team to help lead when they can, the seniors need to “bear more of that burden.”
Gold said this year’s seniors are teaching her how to lead. Normally a quiet person, Gold is working on expressing the feelings of others on the team, especially the underclassmen.
“She’s a little more quiet and a more lead-by-example type of kid than a get-in-your-face kind of kid,” Drass said. “In the end, she’ll have to learn to be a little vocal as she begins to take on more of a leadership role.”
Gold has made a conscious effort to start being more vocal now, knowing it will help her next season. During team huddles, she said she tries to speak up and motivate her teammates.
Although difficult for her, Gold supports the decision of her friends. They’re happy with their choice, and Gold is happy getting ready for another season.
“It’s hard with them not here,” Gold said. “But I’m managing and all my teammates here are really good.”