Missouri gymnast ready for senior season

Thursday, December 3, 2009 | 4:31 p.m. CST; updated 7:54 p.m. CST, Thursday, December 10, 2009
Missouri senior Sarah Shire practices her routine on the balance beam during Monday's gymnastics practice.

COLUMBIA — Sarah Shire finished her 2008-2009 gymnastics season on a Saturday last April at the NCAA National Championships. At 8 a.m. the next Tuesday, she was in surgery.

Shire, now a senior, said it was tough going from a big competition like the championships to getting bone chips removed and ligaments tightened in her right ankle.

Today's meet

No. 16 Missouri gymnastics
Black and Gold exhibition meet

WHEN: 7 p.m.
WHERE: Hearnes Center

“It was hard, but it was also good,” Shire said. “You want to get your surgery done as soon as the season is over so you have the longest recovery time. I had been exhausted from having a long season, so I was going to need that break anyway.”

Now her ankle has recovered, and Shire is ready for her senior season. She returns as one of the top gymnasts on a Tigers team ranked No. 16 in the country in the preseason coaches’ poll.

Shire said she began rehabbing soon after the surgery and was tumbling again by September. Other than taping the ankle to make her feel safer, she is at full strength for the team’s Black and Gold meet at 7 p.m. Friday at Hearnes Center.

“I’m really confident in the surgery he did,” she said. “I’m able to trust it. It’s strong and it’s pain free so it feels great now.”

The Black and Gold meet kicks off the 2009-2010 season for the Tigers, who will be split into two teams and compete in a regular competition (with officials). Missouri begins its regular season against Ohio State on Jan. 8 in Columbia.

Dealing with injuries in the offseason is not something new for Shire. After her freshman season, she rested while bone chips healed in her elbow. After her sophomore year, she had right shoulder surgery. She’s had three back fractures in her gymnastics career.

“We don’t focus on the injury,” Shire said. “That’s not the issue. It’s always, ‘OK, this is what’s wrong, let’s fix it so we can move on.’”

For Shire, injuries have always been obstacles that she had the power to overcome. What’s harder for her today, is knowing that this year, her 19th year of gymnastics, is also her final year of college eligibility, and her final year of gymnastics.

“I think that’s what makes my senior year so hard for me now,” Shire said. “Is knowing it’s (gymnastics) going to be taken away no matter what, and it’s nothing I can stop.”

Part of what makes gymnastics special to Shire is the pride she takes in being able to do something few others in the world can do. She also finds satisfaction in competing in an event, having nobody to rely on but herself.

“It’s not just running and jumping,” she said. “It’s actual coordination and physical ability to put your body through crazy things. At the end of the day, being able to get out on that floor and put that routine out is one of the most rewarding things you could ever do.”

Shire started participating in gymnastics as a young girl.

Missouri coach Rob Drass said most gymnasts of Shire’s ability start learning those skills when they are 3, 4 and 5 years old. They start going to the gym once a week, but quickly advance to three times a week. Drass said that by the time they reach high school, most gymnasts that get recruited are putting in about 35 hours of training each week.

When the season ends in the spring, Shire will miss the sport that’s played such a big part in her life for the past 19 years.

“This is something I’ve done my whole life,” Shire said. “It’s gymnastics. It’s part of me.”

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