COLUMBIA — Sunlight sneaks through the windows of the Mizzou Gymnastics and Golden Girls Practice Facility. With the lights off, this natural glow provides the only light source. The equipment is empty. It's quiet.
The usual buzz of activity is missing. Practice, after the season ended for the Tigers gymnastics team March 23 at the Southeastern Conference championship meet, is optional.
Sophomore Rachel Updike will compete individually on the vault and the beam at the 2013 NCAA Regional Championships on Saturday, April 6, in Norman, Okla.
Updike is also an alternate on the uneven bars, and senior Tori Howard is an alternate on the beam and the floor. They will compete if any of the regional qualifiers are unable to perform.
Oklahoma, Stanford, Penn State, Washington, Iowa and Southern Utah will compete as teams at the meet. Texas Women's Courtney Cochefski and Kristin Edwards will compete individually.
Updike's qualifying marks the 14th consecutive season of at least one Missouri gymnast advancing to regionals under coach Rob Drass' direction. Last year, the team qualified to regionals in Fayetteville, Ark., and Updike advanced to the national meet as an all-arounder.
At regionals, the top two teams, the top two all-arounders and each event winner that is not part of a qualifying team or an all-around qualifier will advance to the 2013 NCAA National Championship on April 19-21 in Los Angeles, Calif.
Except for sophomore Rachel Updike, who advanced to this season's regional meet in Norman, Okla., individually on the vault and the balance beam. Only senior Tori Howard will accompany her as an alternate, in case a regional qualifier cannot compete.
You expect Updike to arrive earlier than she does. You expect her to run in, hair tied up in its usual bun, excited about her accomplishment.
But Updike rolls in just a few minutes before practice is set to begin. Her hair is down. It's not how you're used to seeing her.
As she talks about watching the selection show, the show that announced that she had made it to regionals, she avoids eye contact. She looks down, fidgets with her hands. Despite being the only gymnast to advance, Updike is quiet.
Even over the recent spring break, her plans were low key.
A simple game of dominoes. A movie with the family. An afternoon playing cards.
This is what Updike found back at home in Olathe, Kan., a home in which she grew up doing flips off the couch.
And it's what she looked forward to.
Simple. Understated. Like her attitude toward her success.
"She's a homebody," her mother, Paula Updike, said.
She's always been a big family person, Rachel Updike said, even after her parents' divorce when she was around 6 years old. Her parents are still close, and instead of hanging out with old high school friends when she's home, Rachel Updike spends her time seeing both sides of the family.
Rachel Updike perks up as the conversation turns to focus on her friends and family. She offers the names of two of her old club teammates, Washington sophomore McKenzie Fechter and Stanford sophomore Ivana Hong, who will also be competing at the Norman regional, without you even asking. She seems relieved to talk about people other than herself.
She mentions her teammates, many of whom still come to the optional practices, already wanting to prepare for next season.
She's more outgoing with her teammates, even planning to match all her clothes with sophomore Laura Kappler one week last year, just for fun.
"It usually takes a long time to get to know her," said Tigers assistant coach Jennifer Green, who coached Rachel Updike in club gymnastics for three years before coming to Missouri. But she's gradually coming out of her shell.
You wonder what lies beyond Rachel Updike's quiet confidence. Gymnastics-wise, Green says she's got a lot more to show.
"I'd put her beam routine up against anyone's in the country," she said.
But Rachel Updike's averted gaze, preoccupied hands and subdued demeanor humbly hide this talent. Although she's had success, you wouldn't hear it from her.
The results speak for themselves. Rachel Updike stays quiet.