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UA gymnastics senior leaving sport fulfilled

For serious gymnasts, the question is often whether to have a life or to have their sport.

And the two shall never meet.

“Even school was on the back burner,” said University of Arizona senior Bree Workman, of her pre-teen days on a club team in Michigan.

That was the reason Workman turned contrary at high school age and said so long to the one-dimensional.

“I wanted to have all the things I wanted to have and was never able,” said Workman, who went on to Grand Ledge High School in Lansing, Mich., where she earned National Honor Society academic status, the four-year class presidency and the Student Council. She also was a Big Buddy children’s tutor.

A natural athlete, she put that to good use, too, setting two track sprint records and earning state recognition as a diver.

But something was missing, still twirling in her head.

“I left gymnastics because it wasn’t fun anymore, but I came back because I knew it could be,” she says. “I didn’t want to leave the sport unfulfilled.

I never wanted to be in the Olympics, I just always wanted to be a college gymnast.”

Starting Friday, Workman will lead Arizona into the Pac-10 meet, having realized that dream that included four years as a “starter,” a 9.9 vault on the hometown Michigan State floor and two 9.9s this year.

Plus stoic adherence to her well-rounded person pursuit and what would be classified as a gymnastics Purple Heart.

“Coach (Bill) Ryden tells us ‘you’re a gymnast 24/7,’ ” Workman says of that rounded part. “Meaning, you’re living a complete student life, representing the program’s high standard of excellence.

“We’re not only amazing athletes, we’re amazing students,” Workman said.

Ryden recalls the times Workman has been taped on all four limbs, still defying gravity with the best and landing with a gymnast’s obligatory million-dollar smile.

Workman has had two fasciotomies (soft tissue surgery) on a forearm and can’t grab the parallel bars or lift a weight. As a freshman she was diagnosed with VCD, vocal chord dysfunction, which shuts off breathing.

“I didn’t think at first I’d ever be able to complete a floor routine,” she said. “Teammates have to help me breathe. Erica Anderson (senior teammate has to grab my legs to help me through the breathing process when I’m through.”

Her floor has been consistent this year, including matching a career-high 9.875. She is precluded from the bars and most beam activity.

As in baseball, a gymnast has to “hit,” in this case make the move perfect and tweak a judge’s mind. It’s not fear of falling at all, it’s the fear of the smallest wrong movement of the body.

“College gymnastics is very much a team sport,” Workman says. “It’s not about hitting for yourself. I never had sisters growing up, now I have 14.

You don’t want to disappoint family.

“I thank God every day I changed my mind about gymnastics,” Workman said. “These four years have shaped me as a person.”

She will get an elementary education degree, and she met her fiance at UA, former baseball relief pitcher Daniel Schlereth, who is now in the Arizona Diamondbacks’ minor league system.

She feels she’s already ahead of the game.

“I know a ball, a strike, a walk and a home run,” she said. “But I’m sure I’ll learn. I don’t love him as a ballplayer, I love him for who he is.”

The date of the wedding?

“I’d like 10-10-10 (Oct. 10, 2010),” she said. “My mother (Beth) says that’s perfect for a gymnast.”

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