COLUMBIA — Becca Harper took off down the runway as if her red and black leotard was on fire.
The 9-year-old gymnast from Jefferson City hurdled onto the springboard and launched onto the vault, using her hands to propel herself into a flip. After she stuck her handspring, Becca's mother yelled, "Nice!" from the stands.
The feat was all the more impressive because she was competing in Saturday's gymnastics event at the Show-Me State Games with tendinitis in her right ankle.
Becca, who was competing in the games for the first time, first injured her ankle last summer. "I was running, and someone tripped me," Becca said.
It was later revealed that she had suffered a stress fracture in her ankle, which caused her to miss about four months of gymnastics. Becca came back and began competing again pain-free until her ankle began to nag her again a month-and-a-half ago.
"We took her to the doctor, and he said that she had tendinitis from overworking her ankle," said Jennifer Harper, Becca's mom.
Becca wore a protective boot for about two weeks and had to undergo physical therapy to ensure she would be ready for the games.
"We were worried that she wouldn't be able to compete," Harper said. "Or if she could compete, she wouldn't be as prepared as she would have been."
By the time she competed Saturday, her ankle had improved so much that she only had to wear tape on it.
Becca said her ankle felt "pretty good" and that the adrenaline of competing helped her forget about her injury.
Becca came to the games with three other members from her gym, JC Gymnastics. The girls have been training in gymnastics since they were very young.
"I've been doing it since I was 3," Sydney Kessel, 9, one of Becca's cohorts, said.
Becca and Sydney hope to graduate to level six in the women's Junior Olympic system, which would allow them to move from compulsory gymnastics, in which everyone does the same routine, to optional gymnastics, in which competitors can choose their own routines.
Needing a combined score of 31 in the vault, uneven bars, balance beam and floor routine to move up, Becca exceeded that number by earning a 33.75. She won a silver medal in the vault event and took fourth in the uneven bars.
Although it was Becca's first experience in the games, her mom competed in the games when they were still in their infancy, winning five gold medals in gymnastics in 1986.
"I'm actually more nervous watching her than I ever was (competing)," Harper said. "It's great because it's something that I did a long time ago, and now she's doing it as well."
As Becca was standing on the winners podium receiving her silver medal in the vault for girls 12-and-under in level five, her mom looked on in the stands with a video camera in her hand and Becca's name across the back of her T-shirt.
"It was cool," Becca said. "I feel like I'm following in her footsteps."
Supervising editor is Joe Guszkowski.