NCAA gymnastics: Brittany Rogers’ long UGA journey

In April 2010, Rogers was competing at the Pacific Rim Championships in Melbourne, Australia. Her mom, Gina, and her sister, Chelsea, watched as Rogers struggled to concentrate in the wake of the umpteenth argument with her Russian coaches.

“She’s so distracted,” Chelsea remembers her mom saying before Rogers’ balance beam performance. “She’s not focused at all. Something’s going to happen.”

As if on cue, Rogers botched her dismount off the beam, landing on her feet and head simultaneously and breaking her ankle.

As her ankle broke, so did her relationship with her coaches. The 2012 Olympic Trials were fast approaching and Rogers was in the midst of her prime collegiate recruiting period. She thought she was done.

“At that point, I hated gymnastics,” said Rogers, a native of Coquitlam, British Columbia, near Vancouver.

Six years later — and six years supposedly past her prime — Rogers is about to compete in what may be her final meet as a Gymdog. No. 9 Georgia hosts an NCAA Regional on Saturday. And once more, she’s in line for a spot on Canada’s 2016 Olympic team.

Her perspective on gymnastics has shifted completely.

“It’s mine and no one can take it away from me,” Rogers said.

At age 3, Rogers could swing from ring to ring on the playground too easily, so she started skipping every other ring. She constantly hummed with energy.

“Someone spotted that and was like, ‘Wow, you’ve got to get that girl in gymnastics,’” said Gord Rogers, Brittany’s’ dad.

Her parents put her in gymnastics classes immediately.

“Not bragging, but I was quite good as a little girl,” Rogers said. “If I didn’t win, it was kind of odd.”

By age 12, she qualified for the Junior Pan Am Championships, where she finished fifth in the all-around.

But coping with a childhood spent going to school half a day, missing the social time at lunch to train in the afternoons and clashing with her coaches led her to feel isolated her from her peers. She often competed for herself or out of habit.

“I was essentially her only friend because she didn’t have many at school,” her sister Chelsea said.

The timing of the ankle injury, coming when she was 16, left Rogers wondering if pushing herself to recover was worth it.

With the help of the Dr. Dory Boyer, who repaired her ankle, and a new coach, David Kenwright of Flicka Gymnastics Club, Rogers fell back in love with the sport. She realized people outside her immediate family believed in her.

“The environment that she’d grown up in was very competitive and the kids were sort of pitted against each other,” Kenwright said. “So she learned to be very angry and very competitive, and I don’t think harmony was a part of that environment. So when she got to college, team harmony is everything.”

Rogers had few scholarship offers, but her parents encouraged her to compete in college and learn how to be a team player. Rogers initially fought the idea but later thanked them.

“I think if we left it up to her, she wouldn’t have gone, to be honest,” Rogers’ mom Gina said. “We really thought it would be good for her to have fun and learn how to be part of a team.”

Coming to Georgia piqued Rogers’ interest. Olympic gymnast Courtney Kupets had been a Gymdog and Georgia has won 10 national championships. Perhaps college gymnastics could be more than pompoms and celebrating. What’s more, Georgia hadn’t written her off after her injury.

“When she came in, she was really focused on herself in the entirety,” UGA coach Danna Durante said. “And now you see her watching her teammates and cheering for them and supporting them.”

The summer before Rogers came to Georgia, she was technically past her prime already at 19. Yet at that time in her life, everything became worth it.

In the 2012 London Games, Rogers placed seventh in vault as Canada enjoyed its highest-ever Olympic finish, placing fifth overall.

Rogers began her freshman year at UGA a semester late due to the London Games. While she has her team fully behind her now, there was an adjustment period.

“I was very resistant to anyone that was trying to help me,” Rogers said. “I took it as criticism, I took it as attack of character. And in reality, they want what’s best for the team.”

As a freshman, Rogers made All-SEC. She ranked ninth nationally on bars as a sophomore, was an NCAA runner-up on bars as a junior and received a perfect 10 on vault this season, the first perfect 10 for Georgia on vault since Kupets in 2009.

“It’s amazing what you can do when you’re part of a team and you can use their energy to help you,” Rogers said.

Earning a spot on the Canadian team’s roster for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro would defy the notion that all collegiate gymnasts are washed up.

The first Olympics was for her parents. They had invested so much time and money in her gymnastics career. And for her sister, who was a competitive synchronized swimmer but never competed at the games.

But this one’s for Rogers.

“Now, it’s almost like I’ve changed as a gymnast. I’ve changed as a person,” Rogers said. “And I want to accomplish that for the new Brittany.”

Statistically, Rogers’ last home meet of the season was one of her worst. She faltered on bars and stumbled on her landings during several tumbling passes on floor as Georgia lost to Auburn.

Like at the 2010 Pacific Rim Championships, her family was watching.

Rogers held back tears as her teammates flooded to her with outstretched arms. She hugged her teammates and retreated to the side to collect herself, methodically stripping off her medical tape and sliding on her warmup suit.

Having sent Rogers to Georgia to become a team player, her mom smiled from a distance at the meet’s conclusion as the seniors clung to each other.

“That mission is accomplished,” Gina Rogers said.

The Grady Sports Bureau is part of the sports media program at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.

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