Gymnast's long journey
Sarah Shire’s trip to nationals was anything but a direct route
Led by senior Sarah Shire (front), this year's MU gymnastics team made history as the first Tigers to compete in the NCAA Women's Gymnastics Championships. Shire earned first-team All America honors.
It has always been about the journey for senior gymnast Sarah Shire. As a young competitor she traveled hundreds of miles every week to practice. As a college student, she transferred from the University of Utah to Mizzou to find a better-fitting program. As a young athlete, when her passion had waned, she had a long way to go to rekindle her love for the sport. It’s fitting that the last trip Shire made, in a sequined Tigers leotard, was to the podium at the NCAA Championships.
“It's really just all been a whirlwind,” Shire says. “It's just crazy how far things have come.”
From the time she began tumbling at age 3, Shire was, to put it simply, good at gymnastics. And because good gymnasts often have to travel long distances to get access to the best facilities and instructors, her family hit the road.
In 2001, the Shires sold their home in Holts Summit and moved to Sweet Springs to be closer to a Blue Springs gymnastics club. Sarah's father, David, got a teaching job at O’Hara High School in Kansas City, a school Sarah later attended. Her mother, Robyn, kept her job managing McDonald’s franchises in Columbia and Mexico, driving the opposite direction on I-70 daily.
Losing her way
Cheered on by her teammates, Shire performs a floor routine during a match at MU. At the 2010 NCAA Women's Gymnastics Championships, she finished in second place on floor and fifth on vault.
The training paid off. Shire was offered a scholarship to the University of Utah, a school known for its strong gymnastics program. But despite her skill and the program’s strength, Utah wasn't a good fit for Shire. Her parents always had told her that when the sport was no longer enjoyable, they’d be done with it. So, heeding those words, she decided to give it up.
“It just was not fun anymore,” Shire says.
She transferred to MU to be closer to her family and continue her education. Shire had three friends on the Mizzou gymnastics team, and after meeting with coach Rob Drass she cautiously moved forward and gave gymnastics another chance.
“They welcomed me with open arms,” Shire says. “But Rob worked on me. Worked on me as a person, on finding the confidence within me. And I think he lit that fire again in believing in myself.”
Climbing to the top
Shire won the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year award in 2008. In 2009, she built on it by becoming the Co-Big 12 Gymnast of the Year, the South Central Region Gymnast of the Year and a first team All-American on the vault at nationals.
In the 2010 season, her last in NCAA competition, she wanted to make one final push forward. The trip toward greatness got off to a rocky start. Shire says nerves and the fear of losing set her back early.
“I took a step back and said, ‘OK. Fearlessness starts here.’ I started to do it for me,” she says. “As I’ve moved out of my own way, I’ve come into my own and become the athlete that apparently everyone knew I could be. Except for me.”
Her inner journey paid off. She won 11 all-around titles. She was named the Big 12 Gymnast of the Year. She set a conference record with six Gymnast of the Week titles. She rose to the No. 1 ranking in the all-around. Then, for the first time in University of Missouri history, Shire led the Mizzou gymnastics team to the NCAA national competition by knocking off Georgia, the five-time defending national champions.
In Gainesville, Florida, for nationals, Shire earned first-team All America honors on vault and floor and second team honors on bars. She wrapped up the season with a second-place finish on floor, fifth on vault and a giant smile on her face.
The road ahead
During the 2010 season, Shire set new records for all-around titles and was named the Big 12 Gymnast of the Year.
This record-breaking year for Shire and the MU team is sending Mizzou down a new road. Because gymnastics is said to be a sport of perception — in which judges have preconceived notions about how the athletes will perform based on the team's reputation — squads and athletes have to earn their way into the club.
“We just earned our invitation in,” Drass says. “Some athletes won’t consider coming to a school that hasn’t, and we’ve lost some athletes that way, but this, coupled with our new practice facility being built, is going to put us in a new league. This is just the first step on that path.”
Shire will go in a new direction, but much of the scenery will be the same. She plans to work as an intern at Mizzou Arena this summer and to complete her degree in interdisciplinary studies, with emphases in business and communication, in December. She hopes graduate school at Mizzou is on the horizon.
“I’d have a hard time working for someone else because I really do bleed black and gold,” Shire says. “Everything that has been great in my life has happened here, and everything I’ve accomplished has happened here, so I would love to give back to the school and give someone else an experience like mine.”