When Maddy Stover gets up on the balance beam, the one move that’s her favorite is also the first trick of her routine: a front aerial that also happens to be a blind skill.
Currently, Stover is connecting her front aerial to a back handspring, not her normal series. Stover had to make some adjustments to accommodate her shoulder.
During her sophomore year with the University of Utah gymnastics team, Stover felt her shoulder slip out during her beam dismount on Senior Night. When it popped back, Stover thought it was just a fluke, until her floor routine.
“On my first pass, my shoulder went out of the socket and stayed out for the duration of the routine,” Stover said. “I continued the routine, but after that, I hurt it really bad.”
In the beginning of May 2016, Stover ended up having three different shoulder surgeries — she repaired a torn labrum, a torn rotator cuff and a bankart repair — extending her recovery period to almost a year.
Along with her injured shoulder that is still recovering from surgery, Stover was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis after her freshman year, a chronic inflammatory disorder that affects joints in the hands and the feet.
“I started to have aches and pains and I thought it was just my body getting used to getting back into gymnastics,” Stover said. “I had no idea what was going on with my body. It was a hard diagnosis at first because of my age.”
Fortunately, all of these factors haven’t stopped Stover from doing what she loves. While her injuries prevent her from competing in more events, she has accepted that her body isn’t able to do gymnastics in the same way it used to. She also always kept in mind that she could still contribute on beam.
For Stover, the beam doesn’t require many training hours and it is the least impactful event, which is why it’s the only event that is tolerable for her shoulder right now. As for the other events, it needs more time to heal.
“Bars on the shoulders is extremely hard,” Stover said. “It’s my whole body weight hanging from the joints, and if I can’t keep my shoulder in on its own, it would be a problem on bars. For vault and floor, they are more pounding events, especially vault.”
Though Stover hasn’t had much of a chance to compete in a lot of events this year due to limitations from her injuries, co-head coach Megan Marsden doesn’t think that just focusing on beam has made her excel any more than she has in the past. Stover on the other hand, thinks quite differently.
“Beam is my best event, and it’s where I’ve [excelled] the most,” Stover said. “Being out there with my team, it gave me the most fulfillment this season. When I was voted team captain alongside Baely [Rowe], that was a huge role that I took pride in and I knew that being captain, I couldn’t be on the sidelines.”
Since Stover has only been able to compete on beam at meets this year, she has focused all her attention on that one event, and Marsden said that Stover has always been a great beamer since the day she walked in the door.
“I’m thankful that her favorite event is the one that her body is allowing her to continue to do,” Marsden said. “We are lucky that she is such a natural that I can put her first up or last or in the middle, and I know what I’m going to get from her.”
That’s important for the Red Rocks, according to Marsden. While all the events are crucial, balance beam is the one event that can ebb and flow based on the personality. Fortunately, Marsden thinks Stover gives a lot of confidence to the group.
While it’s a struggle for Stover to keep her body actively moving and her shoulder warm while waiting for beam — which can take up to a couple of hours — beam is an automatic event for her, and she doesn’t need much prep for it.
With that time to prepare for beam during meets, Stover was given the leadoff role. Stover added she has never looked at the role of leadoff as anything different than any other placement in the lineup. With the added pressure, Stover has found that it is something that she quite enjoys.
“Megan and I found that I usually do my best when I’m leadoff or anchor, and doing the routine I have this year, it fits the leadoff position better,” Stover said. “I think I do better with that pressure so I don’t mind leadoff at all.”
Since the regular season has come to an end and the team is heading into postseason, the likelihood of seeing Stover dip her toes in another event is slim. However, Marsden mentioned that Stover choreographed a floor routine and she has been training and preparing for it in case she needs to help out the Red Rocks.
Stover’s injuries have made it difficult for her to do all of her tumbling on her floor exercise, but as long as she can stay healthy, it’s something the Red Rock fans might see in the near future.
“My floor routine is kind of in the making, seeing if my shoulder can say in its socket with more of an impact, but floor would be the first thing that would come,” Stover said. “Hopefully by postseason, I will be ready. If not, I’ll definitely be out on the Huntsman floor by my senior year that’s for sure.”