Going for Broke

Nov. 27, 2001

By Nicole Borges

Only a sophomore at Washington, gymnast Emily Pritchard has the experience most seniors never attain.

Even before coming to Washington, Pritchard had already made a name for herself with Puget Sound Gymnastics Club in Puyallup, competing at the state and region all-around competition in 1999 for USA Gymnastics, and three times at level-10 national competitions.

With such credentials, Pritchard was highly-recruited nationally, but chose to put her talents to use at home.

'When I got to Washington, the atmosphere, the team, and the coaches were different from the other schools,' she says. 'I felt comfortable here.'

As a freshman in 2000-2001, Pritchard set high goals for herself, arousing skepticism from some. Pritchard, though, knew of no other way to prepare.

'I wanted to go to nationals as a team and become an All-American, but when I got to Washington things were different,' Pritchard says. 'I realized it was not always normal for freshmen to compete. It depends on how good they are and what is missing in the team.'

Prtichard was determined to be the exception. Though her dream of the team competition at the NCAA meet came to and end, Pritchard qualified for the national meet as an individual, with stelaar performances in all four events at the NCAA Regional Championships in Nebraska. Just a freshman, she was about to experience a whole new level of competition.

'All the top schools in the country were there,' she says. 'It was hard, going from having your whole team supporting you, to being alone. It didn't end up how I wanted it to, but just being there and knowing that I qualified was an amazing experience, especially as a freshman.'

Looking toward a new season that begins January, Pritchard has emerged as a leader. The expectations of others are high, but none higher than the ones she sets for herself.

'I feel a lot more prepared this year,' she says. 'I know what to expect mentally. Coming from club competition and going into college, you do not know what to expect. Now I do, and also, physically, I am better off this year.'

Pritchard's accomplishments in her freshman year are more amazing considering the physical roadblocks she has had to fight through. As a sophomore in high school, Prtichard found out she had a tumor in her left shin. Three years and several operations later, she is still landing on top of her competition.

'I had my first operation at the end of my sophomore year in high school, then I had another one my senior year,' she explains. 'When I got to Washington, the fall of my freshman year, I had three more because I had to get the screw taken out.'

Reflecting back on the trials and tribulations of her freshman year, it seems remarkable a person could endure so much pain yet experience so much success. Plagued by injuries, Pritchard still battles with her most recent surgery.

'At a meet last year, I fell on the beam and a piece of the bone in my ankle chipped out,' she says. 'It was really painful but I didn't think it was that bad. We took x-rays and nothing showed, and then this summer we took some more x-rays and it was clear that the bone had broken off and reattached itself at the top.'

Through it all, Pritchard continues to stay positive. Building on the success of her 2001 season, she has set even higher standards for herself and the Husky gymnastics team in 2002. Getting stronger day-by-day, Pritchard refuses to step down to her injuries.

'My shin is so much stronger,' she says. 'I've been working on a lot of new skills that I couldn't do before. I have a pretty high pain tolerance, having been through all of this.'

For most, injuries of this type would be career-ending. For Pritchard, however, it is just another bump in the road. Head coach Bob Levesque expects Pritchard to go to nationals every year.

This year, she doesn't want to go alone.

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