In sports, there is always the possibility an athlete will suffer an injury. Whether it be a career-ending injury or one that allows them to compete, but requires caution and attention, injuries and sports go hand in hand. Athletes do what they can to prevent injuries, but that does not guarantee they will play the game they love, injury free. In July 2015, University of Utah gymnast Maddy Stover was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. This injury was one that couldn’t be avoided, but one she wanted to overcome.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that results in the inflammation of joints. The most common joints affected are the wrists, hands, feet, elbows, knees and ankles, all of which are key joints that feel the majority of impact in gymnastics.
RA isn’t the only injury Stover has dealt with as a gymnast. Reconstructive shoulder surgery and rehab are on the list. Despite those injuries, she still finds ways to compete and succeed.
“I have a really good team and athletic trainer behind me,” Stover said. “I get in a hot tub before practice to warm up and get my body loose to help with the arthritis. I wear wrist guards, I take my medicine and I do my rehab the right way. I know I probably won’t ever do vault or bars again, but that just means that I want to be stronger and more confident with beam and floor.”
While overcoming her injuries, Stover found success not only in the gym, but in the classroom. In Stover’s 2016 campaign, she earned Second Team All-American honors on the beam. In her 2017 campaign, she was one of two Utah gymnasts to earn the team’s Greg Marsden Leadership Award, and she made the Pac-12 Gymnastics All-Academic First Team.
“I feel like I’m a very organized and scheduled person,” Stover said. “I utilize my support around me when I need it, and I’m not afraid to ask for help when it comes to my schoolwork. I knew I needed to be able to dedicate my time and myself to both, so I just did it and I found a way.”
Stover is now entering her senior season, and she is hoping to be a leader on her team.
“I’m going to enjoy my last year of gymnastics,” Stover said. “This isn’t really a sport that you can just go and do when you’re done, so I really want to get the most out of it. I’m working right now to be the best version of myself, and I want to help my team repeat as Pac-12 Champions, get back to regionals and the Super Six and compete. Competing is my motivation, and I want to take it all in.”
Over the course of Stover’s career, she has experienced both ends of the spectrum — triumph and obstacles. She continues to battle, she finds ways to compete, and she finds joy in what she is doing. Nobody has recognized that more than her mother, Nancy.
“Maddy is not a complainer,” Nancy said. “She wakes up happy every day and appreciates life as it is. I’m so proud that she never gave up. She’s an all-around leader, contributor and example.”
Maddy believes the perfect place for her to continue to set an example and leave her legacy is in front of a crowd that’s there to watch her and her team perform.
“I don’t want to be just a college athlete, I want to be a role model,” Maddy said. “Not only a role model to the community, but more importantly, one to the little girls that come and watch. Those girls can see a woman who is strong and confident and receiving a degree. I want those little girls to know that they can achieve everything they want to with a little extra work. I want to be their role model because I was once them.”