Alisha Robinson stopped being normal when she was 10.
Now she is 22 and still hasn’t found the groove of a typical college student. She is a Missouri gymnast, and to her, that’s just fine.
“I wouldn’t give it up, I enjoy what I do and wouldn’t trade it for anything,” Robinson said.
She began gymnastics at 3 and has been loving it ever since. At 10 she was invited to join a competitive team and from then on life took on a new schedule.
Her intense love for the sport is still evident as she looks impatiently at her teammates warming up. The look in her eye shows she wants to join them, but at the same time she is obviously enjoying talking about gymnastics.
Bubbly and smiley, Robinson remembers growing up in a whirlwind of practices and competitions. Looking back, she realizes how much her family had to give up in order for her to pursue her passion. She had two-hour practices before school in addition to four-hour practices afterward, and needed rides for all of them.
Growing up in Bates City, Robinson worked out and competed alongside 2004 U.S. Olympians Terin Humphrey and Courtney McCool. She and Humphrey met when Robinson was 12 and Humphrey was 8, and the two have stayed close friends.
“Before her training for the Olympics I talked to her a lot when she was having bad days; when I have a bad day I call her,” Robinson said. “I knew exactly what she was thinking, what was going on in her head, how she felt. It was cool to watch her (in the Olympics).”
Training at a gym that produced two Olympians takes a lot of work, and Robinson had to have a network of support.
Although her parents and two older brothers have always supported her during rigorous training and competition, Robinson says, “Gymnastics was my sport. I chose to get in it and stay in it. When I would come home crying, they didn’t want to hear it. They would say, ‘It was your choice and if you don’t want to do it, quit.’”
But she never did. A senior, Robinson is battling one of the most difficult seasons a collegiate athlete can face.
Coach Rob Drass describes it as “a very difficult position for an athlete to be in… it can be a frustrating experience.”
In her first three seasons at MU Robinson was a star performer as well as a crowd favorite. She is a two-time All Big 12 Conference selection and holds every individual Missouri record except beam, which is held by junior Lauren Schwartzman.
But this year has been different for Robinson. She has struggled from the beginning and had to make a difficult decision with Drass to not compete on the beam against Illinois on Feb. 11. With earlier falls on the unparallel bars and beam, it’s easy to understand her frustration.
Robinson said it is physically different to compete as a senior than as a freshman.
“As a senior, coming in hurting everyday, my body is getting old. This year it’s like I get up and can’t move; your body just kind of starts going downhill fast.”
She sees this as her final season and wants to end her career well so desperately that she says her focus has become too intense.
She sees the chance to make her mark slipping away and it’s obvious from her tone how much it means to her.
“Part of her issues this season has been that she wants to do so many more things and the clock is ticking, the time is running out,” Drass said.
A self-described perfectionist, Robinson says the obsession takes over particularly in the gym.
“I get very angry very easily with myself,” she said. “I expect perfection every time.
“This attitude can be good, but at the same time, I always want to do more. In the coaches’ eyes, it’s good. But it’s not good enough for me.”
When this season started off badly for Robinson, she would get upset with her poor performance and try to work harder.
She put more pressure on herself, end up overdoing it and crashed under the stress and self-expectations. Drass says he recognizes her drive for peak performance and works to use it in a positive way. He says her work ethic is a good example and motivator for her teammates.
“She has two speeds: go and don’t go. With Alisha, it’s all or nothing, and it usually works out for her,” Drass said. “She brings an intense attitude to the team and strives inside and outside the gym to do everything she can to make herself a better gymnast.”
Robinson’s breakout performance this season finally came against Illinois on Feb. 11. She won the uneven parallel bars and floor exercise and tied for first on the vault to help Missouri beat the Illini. After the meet, she seemed rejuvenated and ready to take on any competitor.
“I’m the best gymnast in practice,” she said. “It was all in my head.”
Before, she had been frustrated, particularly after the Penn State Invitational on Feb. 5. The Tigers placed third and Robinson failed to place in any event.
“I don’t even know how to fix my own problems,” she said then. “It’s frustrating because I don’t have all the answers.”
Robinson’s turbulent season has mirrored her team’s in disappointment and inconsistency. But like Robinson, Missouri found strength and momentum against Illinois and gave dazzling performances. The Tigers had season-high team scores on three events as well as multiple personal bests. Robinson tied the school record score on bars with a 9.95.
“I have one year left to give gymnastics what I can and I’m going to do everything I can to make it perfect,” Robinson said. “I have the rest of my life to do whatever I want. I don’t have the rest of my life to do gymnastics.”