In the line of Shire

By By Tony Pizza

By Tony Pizza

Growing up, Ute gymnast Sarah Shire did not have much of a shot living a life without sports.

Her dad, David Shire, has been a high school teacher for 27 years. During that time, he coached practically every sports team, except the chess club and synchronized swimming. Sarah’s Shire’s mom, Robyn, was also a coach and a teacher for seven years before changing her career path in 1990.

Needless to say, Sarah Shire was going to do something athletic.

Sarah Shire got her start in softball. Robyn Shire even taught her only child to bat lefty, despite being right-handed, so she could be an effective drag-bunter and make it to first base faster. It didn’t take long, however, for Sarah to be introduced to her obsession.

Sarah Shire loved gymnastics so much, it was easy for people to accuse her parents of pushing her involvement in the sport, when it was actually Sarah dragging her parents to practice every day.

“As high school coaches, we’ve seen parents mercilessly drive their kids into a sport?and we didn’t want to be like that,” David Shire said. “We tried not to be pushy parents.”

Sarah Shire, who was born near St. Louis, Mo., was also the one who dragged her parents halfway across the state of Missouri to pursue her gymnastics dreams.

She started getting heavily involved in gymnastics under the instruction of Chris Clark. But when Clark moved to California while Sarah Shire was in eighth grade, she was left without a coach, and the Shires had a pivotal decision to make.

Would the family pack up from their newly built house and move closer to an elite gym in Kansas City, or would Sarah Shire have to face the fact that her gymnastics career had come to an end?

“Sarah said, ‘I’m not done yet,’ and we kind of agreed with that,” her dad said.

Shortly after, the family moved to a small town in central Missouri called Sweet Springs, but the move didn’t exactly make life easier for the Shires.

David Shire found a teaching job 70 miles west of the family’s home at Archbishop O’Hara High School-where Sarah attended high school, in Kansas City-while Robyn maintained her restaurant management job 150 miles east in Columbia.

The reward for the 90-minute daily commute was that Sarah Shire got to attend Great American Gymnastic Express (GAGE), which is one of the top gymnastics facilities in the nation.

At GAGE, she practiced six hours a day, six days a week to become one of the best gymnasts in the country. But she quickly found that her daily commute wasn’t the only obstacle she would have to overcome.

Terin Humphrey and Courtney McCool were both Sarah Shire’s teammates at GAGE, and both eventually went on to earn silver medals in Athens, Greece, as members of the 2004 U.S. Olympic gymnastics team. Sarah Shire, who was one of the last girls to be left off the roster, had a hard time swallowing the disappointment of being the odd person out.

“We always use the 90-10 rule,” David Shire said. “Life is 10 percent what happens to you, 90 percent how you react to it.”

Sarah Shire proved what kind of person she was by the way she handled those rough times.

“Seeing my two teammates go all the way was both good and bad,” she said. “I tried three summers in a row to make three major teams and I didn’t make any of them?but in the back of my mind I had Utah on my brain.”

Besides being perpetually optimistic, Sarah Shire has a work ethic that has helped her overcome every one of the challenges a world-class gymnast must face. That work ethic has continued at Utah.

Because she didn’t have a gym close by when she went home for Christmas break, she was one of the freshmen that U head coach Greg Marsden called out for not being in proper shape when she came back for the start of Spring Semester.

But when Sarah Shire got back to the U’s Dumke Center, she worked. She pushed herself so hard, that it literally took only two weeks before Marsden inserted her in the exhibition slot on beam and vault against Minnesota.

Fittingly, Sarah Shire’s debut in collegiate gymnastics didn’t come without adversity, either.

After she nailed her vault score of a 9.875, she watched as U captain Nicolle Ford struggled through her routines with strep throat. Shortly after, Sarah Shire found out she had a 30-second touch to prepare to do a routine for score.

After she finished warming up, Sarah Shire glanced up to the stands, found her mother-who had driven over 600 miles to see her first collegiate performance-gave her a look of confidence and proceeded to nail the routine for a 9.8.

Tears filled Robyn Shire’s eyes as she watched her daughter leap into the arms of teammates. All the hard work, all the sacrifice and the decision to attend a school more than 1,300 miles away from home was finally paying off-both for Sarah Shire and for her parents.

“I was very, very proud of her,” Robyn Shire said. “It was pretty overwhelming. I’ll admit, I had a little tear?well, I had a couple.”