COLUMBIA — Mary Burke will enter competition this weekend as the top gymnast in the Big 12.
This week she was recognized as the Big 12’s Gymnast of the Week for the second consecutive week.
Burke, a junior, also won the award in January 2010 and is one of three gymnasts from the Missouri program to earn the award three times.
On Saturday, the Missouri gymnastics team will travel to Dallas to compete in the Metroplex Challenge.
“We’re a team to look out for,” Burke said.
This might be the team’s most difficult meet of the year. All four teams competing in Dallas — Alabama, LSU, MU, amd Nebraska — were at the National Championship last year and placed in the top 12.
“We’re taking our team into the fire pit to toughen them up for the postseason,” Drass said.
The team is young, with six freshmen on the 13-member team and only three upperclassmen.
“We have a very young team that’s still learning how to compete and we’re taking them into the fire,” coach Rob Drass said.
Burke enjoys the opportunity to teach.
“The team is a lot different from last year when we had seven upperclassmen,” Burke said. "I’ve gotten to take the younger girls under my wing and show them the ropes”.
Academic success, as well as community involvement, complements Burke’s athletic career. Burke is a health sciences major in the pre-physical therapy program and hopes to continue her post-graduate education at MU.
“I have to work really hard in prioritizing with school, and sometimes that means giving up some of my social life,” Burke said.
The gymnastics team works with Adaptive Gymnastics, a program at the Hearnes Center overseen by the MU Physical Therapy department.
Adaptive Gymnastics works with children ages 3 to 18 with physical and mental disabilities to help develop coordination, mobility and social skills through gymnastics.
Burke has taken an active interest in the program, volunteering as a guest coach and participating in events.
“She (Burke) is a leader by example. She’s always working hard, always has a good attitude. She’s the ‘always kid,’” Drass said. “I’d take a lot more like her.”