COLUMBIA — Sarah Shire calls her lifelong gymnastics journey a fairytale. Of course, the best part of any fairytale is the happy ending. And, if you ask Shire, that’s just what she got.
Shire’s gymnastics career came to an end at the National Championships on April 24 in Gainesville, Fla. She was competing in the event championships, with her last routine coming on floor exercise. She scored a 9.9 in the event to place second in the country, but Shire was more concerned with something else as she ran off the gymnastics floor for the last time.
“I truly felt that when I left the floor at nationals that I had left everything out there, that I had done everything that I possibly could have done," Shire said. "That’s the best feeling in the world.”
Shire pulled teammate Becky Scholle aside and told her, “Regardless of where I finish, that was everything I had.”
The second-place finish at the national meet was icing on the cake according to Shire. It capped off a senior year that she said could not have gone better. Over the course of the season, Shire established herself as one of the best athletes Missouri has ever seen. She earned six Big 12 Conference Gymnast of the Week awards, set the school record for the highest all-around score and reached No. 1 in the national rankings. She also led the team to the program's first NCAA National Championship appearance, where she earned a pair of All-American honors, giving her four for her career.
The season went differently than Shire’s first two years at Missouri. Shire emerged as a leader early in the season, and her teammates followed her example in and out of the gym.
“I think I finally settled in to my own comfort zone,” Shire said. “My senior year, I felt comfortable here. I had a little bit more voice, I had a little bit more of an opinion, and I kind of was in a little bit more control of my career.”
She said that of the best moments of her career, probably all but one or two came from her final season
Missouri gymnastics coach Rob Drass and his staff could use Shire’s career as a recruiting tool to lure in top high school talent. Shire said past recruits have been concerned that Missouri didn’t know how to handle an elite gymnast, but Shire's success showed it did.
“Now, I think the coaching staff can say that they’ve had every type of athlete,” Shire said. “I may have pushed their buttons at times, but they know how to deal with me now, and I think that will help people in the future.”
Shire said she’s already started to look back on her career, even if it’s only been for a little more than a week.
When recounting the moments of her career that she’d never forget, Shire focused on adversity. She mentioned travel mishaps and described the one meet in her Missouri career in which she did not compete in the all-around. She said she’d never forget missing a trip to the national championships in her junior year.
“I know that’s kind of a negative memory," Shire said, "but it’s the fire that fueled this senior year.”
In true Sarah Shire fashion, she mentioned that her best memories of her career came when she was around her teammates, in practice, in competition or just hanging out.
A future without gymnastics competition is something Shire knew was coming, and her performance at the national meet made it easier for her to walk away. For her, it all came together at the end.
“I think that if there’s anything I’ve learned over the past four years, it’s that you have to be mentally tough," Shire said. "And I think it took me three years to figure it out. I still even think my senior year, in the beginning, I wasn’t all there. I really felt, at the very last moment, everything came together like it was supposed to. I hope to help people with that sooner, so that they can have the same success and the same joy that the sport has given me.”
That realization is something that Shire plans to use in a part-time coaching job at Flipz USA gym in Columbia. The gym is owned by the same person who owned the gym Shire went to in Jefferson City when she was 5 years old. She has started working with older, college-hopeful athletes, and said she is excited about teaching the mental side of the sport.
While Shire will probably never compete again, she is planning on continuing in the sport. She wants to coach at the college level, and she said her dream is to start a gymnastics program at one of the four Texas schools in the Big 12 Conference.
“I guarantee you some of the best athletes in gymnastics come from Texas," Shire said. "They’ve always had good high school programs. In theory, a dream of mine would be to start a program there.”
Shire said she has researched the subject, and knows that it’s no easy task to start a program, but as she pointed out, she loves being the first to do anything.
Whatever the future holds for Shire, there’s no erasing her status as one of the most decorated athletes at Missouri. Her competing days are behind her, but they culminated with the happy ending she wanted.