Athletics & Recreation

Gymnast triumphs over injury for all-around success

Nina McGee competes at last weekend's NCAA semifinals in Fort Worth, Texas. Photo: Roland Barrett

Nina McGee competes at last weekend’s NCAA semifinals in Fort Worth, Texas. Photo: Roland Barrett

Gymnasts are known for bouncing around, but one Pioneer is proving she can bounce back.

In October 2012, first-year student Nina McGee was twisting and spinning in the air after springing off the vault during practice. When she landed, she couldn’t move for several seconds. Eventually she crawled off the mat.

A few hour later doctors shared horrible news: She had the dreaded black line — fractures in both tibias — and it was serious enough to put her entire collegiate career in jeopardy.

“The doctors told me I might not be able to walk normally again,” says the senior psychology major from Cincinnati, Ohio. “They gave me two options: have surgery or say goodbye to gymnastics.”

She took a weekend to talk with her coach and her parents and then opted for the surgery, even though there were no guarantees. “They told me it was a 50-50 shot that it would work well enough that I’d be able to compete,” McGee says.

Surgeons implanted metal rods in her legs — a success, but the rehab was long and grueling and lasted the rest of the 2012–13 school year.

“It was tough, really hard. My bones hurt, my tendons hurt, and I couldn’t walk for three weeks,” she says. “I pretty much had to re-learn how to walk and then run and get my skills back.”

And that she did in remarkable fashion. In her first season back, she won the bars and floor titles at the WAC championships and set career highs at 9.900 or higher, including 9.925 on bars and 9.975 on floor.

Earlier this year, she was named the best collegiate gymnast in the country in the floor exercise and conference gymnast of the year. In March she won the all-around, beam and floor titles at the 2015 Mountain Rim Gymnastics Conference Championships. And her all-around score of 39.425 in early April qualified her to compete in the NCAA national championships later in the month, where she tied for second in the event finals on floor — the highest finish for a DU gymnast at the Division I NCAA National Championships since 1983.

Head women’s gymnastics coach Melissa Kutcher-Rinehart calls McGee a remarkable person. “When the injury happened, I didn’t know Nina that well. She had just joined us as a freshman, and so I didn’t know how it would all turn out,” Kutcher-Rinehart says. “But now, of course, I know her well, and if I had known her that well when it happened, I would have said with absolute certainty that she would come out of this and bounce back. One of my favorite things about her is that she’s such a hard worker with amazing determination, grit and passion.”

And there’s more good news for the Pioneers: McGee, who hopes to work either in business or as a guidance counselor after she graduates, is eligible and will return for a fifth season in 2015–16.

“I so excited to come back,” she says. “This whole thing taught me to never take anything for granted. The sport has always come easy to me, but having that taken away from me so abruptly made me consider the little things in life — and to make the most of it while I still have it.”


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