Senior Missouri gymnast Brittany Bendoff coaches after career-ending injury

Friday, March 8, 2013 | 11:07 p.m. CST; updated 4:08 p.m. CST, Saturday, March 9, 2013
The Missouri gymnastics team lost to Illinois on senior night Friday at Hearnes Center.

COLUMBIA — Senior gymnasts Tori Howard and Sandra Ostad run out of the fog-filled tunnel in their Tiger uniforms.

Senior Brittany Bendoff stands back in the shadows wearing a lace dress and high heels.

Meet Results

The Tigers fell to Illinois 196.300-194.125 at the Hearnes Center on Friday.

Junior Taylor Medrea earned a career high score of 9.775 on the balance beam and matched her career high of 9.800 on the floor. It was the last home meet of her career, as she will be on medical leave next season.

Senior Tori Howard also finished with a career high score of 9.900 on the floor, earning her second place on the event.

Junior Mackenzie McGill also earned career highs of 9.850 on the uneven bars and 9.850 on the beam, earning her second place on both events.

Sophomore Rachel Updike earned first on the vault, scoring a 9.900.

The Tigers will travel to Tucson, Ariz., next Saturday to take on the Arizona Wildcats.

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Howard and Ostad stand and wave as they hear their names announced for the last time at the Hearnes Center, tossing T-shirts into the crowd.

Bendoff doesn't hear her name.

A group of students holds up posters for each gymnast, one of them reading "Bend It Like Bendoff."

But Bendoff wouldn't be doing much bending.

In fact, she wouldn't be performing.

After rupturing her achilles tendon her sophomore season and again her junior season, Bendoff was unable to continue competing in gymnastics.

"It was a shock to everyone," Bendoff said. "But they wanted me to be able to walk when I'm older."

So she decided not to risk it.

Instead, she took on a new role as a student coach for the Tigers. This includes helping out at practice by controlling the music and moving the mats, as well as working as a play-by-play analyst at most home meets.

"She overcame a lot of adversity," Tigers coach Rob Drass said. "She does whatever we need her to do."

But at this meet, the Tigers' last home meet of the season, Bendoff was down on the floor rather than giving the play-by-play.

After sophomore Laura Kappler fell on her last pass on the floor, scoring an 8.800, Bendoff was there with a comforting arm around Kappler's shoulders.

While Ostad competed on the floor for her last time at home, Bendoff was there cheering, "Come on Sandra!"

And when Howard finished her last beam routine at the Hearnes Center, instead of giving a high-five like the rest of the team, Bendoff was there with a long hug, and then helped Howard tie the black and gold bow back in her hair.

"I was just saying how proud of her I was," Bendoff said.

"We were just reminiscing," Howard said. "We lived together, ate together, practiced together and conditioned together since before freshman year.

"It's never boring with Brittany," Howard said with a giggle, as if unsure how to fully describe Bendoff's vibrant personality.

"She's still a fun-loving person," Drass said. "She likes to joke around and have a good time. It creates a family atmosphere."

Bendoff's attitude has inspired other teammates to follow in her footsteps. Junior Taylor Medrea will be on medical leave next season and competed at her last home meet Friday as well.

Medrea is "almost 100 percent sure" that she'll be student coaching next season, calling Bendoff's situation "something to admire."

But did Bendoff ever wish she could be competing for the last time alongside her fellow seniors?

"The whole night," she said.

After Missouri's 196.300-194.125 loss to Illinois, Medrea and the seniors were announced and honored with their families. The competing gymnasts' feet bare, Bendoff walked out in her coral wedge heels.

"And yes, she is rocking those shoes, isn't she?" the announcer joked as Bendoff kicked out her feet to show them off.

It's clear she didn't let her disappointment keep her from enjoying the night.

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