Stakem abandons clipboard for balance beam
Ali Stakem is attempting something that head coach Bill Ryden has never seen in his 13 years at the helm of the UA gymnastics program.
Stakem, a lifelong gymnast whose career was cut short due to injuries, was the team manager last year and tried out for the team this year. This marked Stakem's first return to the mat since doctors ordered her to stop competing during her sophmore year of high school.
""There was a little bit of hesitation,"" Ryden said. ""The doctors (in her club team) told her to retire for a reason. She has proven to me that she can actually do this level of gymnastics. She still has a long ways just from a rehab stand point to get to where she wants to go.""
Stakem has exhibitioned in two events this year but has not been able to crack the rotation. The team has welcomed Stakem with open arms and can be often seen giving her advice on how to improve her routines. Stakem said being a teammate is completely different than being a team manager because she is able to be closer to the team.
""You can tell there is a ton of talent in that body, it's just that the body is very beat up,"" Ryden said. ""That rotator cuff tear didn't happen here; we discovered it after she started her training. She came here with that tear and just never knew it.""
Unfortunately for Stakem, her rotator cuff injury required immediate surgery, and she will be rehabbing for the rest of the season.
""Recovery is estimated (to take) six to nine months, so I'm not sure exactly (about) the amount of time,"" Stakem said. ""I got surgery about two weeks ago and that is when the recovery time started.""
Stakem believes that her three-year retirement from gymnastics both hurt and helped her in the long run.
""It made it a lot harder to get all of my skills back,"" Stakem said. ""It helped me because it gave me such passion and such determination to get back. I love this sport so much, just being off for that long just made me realize how much I do love this sport.""
Some of the gymnasts consider Stakem the comedian of the team who always keeps people laughing. She may be on a rigorous road to recovery, but Stakem is always smiling.
""It's just the way I am. I like to make people laugh,"" Stakem said. ""I do goofy things because I'm not worried about what people think of me. I just want to make others happy.
""Hopefully, I will be back next year and be able to compete. I definitely plan on being back next year.""