UCLA's McCullough Battles Through Injuries

By Patricia Lee

Competition does not wait for anything. It does not wait for the late bloomers and it does not wait for the injured.

Senior Brittani McCullough overcame both obstacles, and became a champion and a great competitor for the UCLA gymnastics team. She did not start gymnastics until she was nine and she had to face her share of injuries. Now, she is facing the best competitors in college gymnastics at the NCAA Championships, somewhere she has been before, a place where she has won.

McCullough led the Bruins to a national championship just a year ago, and also claimed the individual title on floor exercise.

McCullough has come a long way from being the energetic child who climbed and swung from trees in her grandfather's front yard. This behavior worried her mother, which prompted her grandfather to suggest gymnastics as a safe way to have fun.

Perhaps it was her athleticism from basketball or her agility from dance lessons, or maybe it was just pure talent, but McCullough quickly moved up the ranks in her gymnastics classes. This was not easy for the young girl.

"They wanted to move me up pretty quickly, but I didn't want to leave my friends," said McCullough.

McCullough eventually learned that she never really left her friends by moving up. She never left her family behind either. Her family was always supportive of her choices, even though they sometimes questioned them.

"At my first meet, my parents were really nervous," McCullough said. "I fell off the beam three times. My dad asked me afterwards, 'Are you sure you still want to do gymnastics?' But I was like, 'No, this is never going to happen again.'"

Before she knew it, colleges were recruiting McCullough. Bu then the injuries began. She injured her back before her junior year of high school and could not compete that season. A gymnast's junior year in high school is a crucial year in the world of recruiting. Recruiters had to base her talent on what they saw her do during her freshman and sophomore year of high school.

McCullough did not give up then. When she recovered from her injury, she went back to competing. During her senior year, coaches from many schools contacted her, including coach Valerie Kondos Field from UCLA.

Though she ended up tearing an Achilles tendon that year, recruitment clearly went well for the Bruins and McCullough, and she committed to UCLA.

"I chose UCLA because of the combination of great athletics and great academics," said McCullough. "It's hard to find that great combination, and to be able to have success in both at one school is amazing."

During McCullough's first year at UCLA, she had a life-changing experience. She wrecked her car, but luckily, she was alive. However, the accident left her with a severed tendon in her big toe, which forced her to redshirt during her first year at UCLA.

This accident made her who she is today. After being under the care of a particularly caring nurse during her recovery, McCullough chose a difficult major, nursing. The nursing program at UCLA is very demanding and time consuming, and to take on that challenge as an already busy student-athlete was an incredible commitment.

McCullough fully recovered from her injury to compete the next season as a redshirt freshman. But another injury came along during the Bruins' last home meet. She ruptured her left Achilles tendon. Though the injury ended her season, it did not prevent her from earning the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year title.

Since that last injury, McCullough has managed to stay healthy, and she is finishing her senior year at UCLA. This is her last chance to leave another mark on the gymnastics floor and it is her last quarter before she enters life after college.

People may find balancing on a balance beam is hard to do, but for McCullough, she finds it easier than balancing school and gymnastics.

"Last quarter was tough," said McCullough. "It's not that I wasn't able to do it, but I just realized how much rest you need and how much energy you need."

McCullough had just one class last quarter, but this class was a nursing immersion program that required her to complete 300 clinical hours at a hospital. Even with the immense dedication to a nursing credit at Santa Monica UCLA Medical Center & Orthopaedic Hospital, McCullough managed to make time for gymnastics, going to practices and excelling on the gymnastics floor.

McCullough is also looking towards the future. She applied to a few jobs and now awaits their responses.

"I have mixed emotions about the future," said McCullough. "I'm really excited, but I'm also a little bit nervous. It's something new and something different."

McCullough hopes to go on a vacation upon graduation and take some time off for herself. She wants to dance again, and ultimately a find a job.

As McCullough comes to the end of her collegiate career, she thinks about her legacy as a Bruin. When attending a school with such vast history in athletics, especially with John Wooden and the men's basketball team, it can be difficult to leave such a mark at the school. McCullough just wants to make an impression.

"I want people to see that things that you think aren't possible actually are possible," said McCullough. "And never give up, because anything you put your mind to you can do."

McCullough's journey at UCLA as well as throughout her personal life, with injuries and setbacks, can be an inspirational story for all.

"I'm thankful that I can still perform and that I'm able to do gymnastics," said McCullough. "I'm thankful that I'm able to come back after the number and severity of the injuries I had. There are so many people that can't even walk, but I get to flip and do gymnastics."

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