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Gymnast Stevenson finds success despite surgery

BY ALEX FRENCH | FEBRUARY 15, 2012 6:30 AM

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Iowa gymnast Emma Stevenson walked toward the north end of the scorer's table during the Hawkeyes' Feb. 3 meet against Penn State.

Waiting for her was teammate Jessa Hansen, ready to partake in the pair's customary handshake prior to each event. Stevenson then stepped inside the boundary and waited for the judge's green flag, the signal to begin her routine.

The crowd in Carver-Hawkeye Arena did not know she was 1:24 away from setting a career-high with a 9.9 in the floor exercise.

That score, along with Hansen and Penn State's Sharaya Musser, earned Stevenson a share of top honor in the event.

She now has finished first in the uneven bars two times this season and added a first place title two weeks ago against Penn State in the floor routine.

"It's been really exciting for me. My whole life I've never really been the standout on anything," she said. "It's nice because my hard work is paying off, and it's awesome to be able to do that for the team. It makes me happy to know what I'm doing is good enough to win an event, which means my score is high enough to win an event, which is really helpful to our team score."

The road to success hasn't been smooth sailing for Stevenson, though. Most of the crowd at Carver the night of the Penn State meet also didn't know Stevenson was one unsuccessful medical procedure away from never cometing again.

Stevenson is eight months removed from having a sesamoidectomy, a procedure done to remove one of the sesamoid bones from the bottom of the ball in her left foot.

It's her third surgery, and said head coach Larissa Libby, her last chance to keep her in competition.

"She's had problems with this ever since she got here, and this was kind of our last-ditch effort to keep her doing gymnastics," she said. "[The medical staff] said if this doesn't work, then we don't know what to do."

After staying in Iowa City this summer and meticulously rehabbing with team trainer Jon Favrel, Stevenson seems to have made a full recovery.

"It was not easy and extremely painful for her," Libby said. "We didn't think she would do floor again, but thank god she is. She's winning all the time."

Stevenson won't even bring up her foot ailment at practices or during meets, which is a testament to her character as a person and a gymnast, her coach said.

"Everybody knows she hurts; everybody knows it's probably the most painful thing to deal with each day," Libby said. "But she never says a word.  She does her assignments above and beyond of what she's asked to do all the time. She doesn't want to use it as a crutch."

In fact, assistant coach Linas Gaveika said the Winfield, Ill., native doesn't say much at all. She mostly lets her gymnastics do the talking.

"She's a silent leader," he said. "In her case, her performance says it all."

Stevenson's performance during competition has improved each year she's been on campus. She topped her personal best in the floor routine against Penn State, and now hopes to fulfill personal goals before seasons end.

"Last year, my goal was to get 9.8s on every event at one meet. I did that this year, so my new goal is to stick bar and vault," she said. "My other goal is to get a higher average among all three of them, so pushing a 9.85 on all three."

Gavieka, along with assistant coach Caleb Phillips, helps establish individual goals for each gymnast to strive for. He said Stevenson's success just shows how consistent she is as a gymnast.

"I call her the 'team level' because when she goes, [the team] knows that she'll hit," he said. "Whenever people think of Emma, they think of consistent."

For Stevenson, the short-term goals are just steppingstones leading up to a bigger picture, something that's bigger than herself: her team and its success.

"I mean it's awesome, it's a great feeling, but I never go into a meet wanting to win event. I just want to do the best for the team that I can do, and do better than the week before," she said. "Nobody is here, and only here, for themselves. I think it's very evident when we compete that we're in it for everyone and not just ourselves."


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