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Katie Zurales epitomizes perseverance for women's gymnastics

Natasha Janardan/Daily
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By Cindy Yu, Daily Sports Writer
Published March 21, 2013

More than once, Katie Zurales wanted to quit. The senior captain of the No. 4 Michigan women’s gymnastics team (6-1 Big Ten, 17-1 overall) had a season-ending injury prior to the NCAA Championships in 2010. She’s broken her foot, dislocated her shoulder, compressed her back and underwent two hip surgeries within the span of three years.

Entering Michigan with aches all over her body, Zurales was unsure of how her future would pan out. Like most female gymnasts, she felt she’d peaked prior to college in her sophomore and junior years of high school. Had it not been for the support of her coach and teammates, she might not be a student-athlete today.

Now, while she competed on vault and beam throughout her freshmen and sophomore years, Zurales has stepped up as an upperclassman to compete in the all-around and captain the squad during her junior and senior years.

“Coming back my junior year, I just flipped the switch,” Zurales said. “I told myself, ‘Okay, it’s time. I’m stepping it up and then putting the work in now. I’m making these last two years worth it.’ When it gets down to those final years, you realize there’s not much time left, and you just want to make the most of those last moments.”

Zurales, one of the six finalists for the 2013 AAI Award given each year to the country’s top senior student-athlete in NCAA Division I women’s gymnastics, continues to show improvement. The reigning NCAA Regional vault champion earned her first career weekly honor earlier this year (Feb. 25) as the Big Ten Gymnast of the Week. This season, Zurales also scored her career best on bars (9.925), floor (9.950) and in the all-around (39.575).

“I feel like I’m just hitting my peak now in these final two years,” Zurales said.

Recently named to the All-Big Ten team, Zurales is ranked 19th in the all-around with a 49.365 Regional Qualifying Score, 22nd on vault at 9.900, 21st on uneven bars at 9.880 and 18th on beam at 9.880.

But the Illinois native said her final farewell to the Crisler Center during senior night last Saturday.

“Since we haven’t had a senior night in a year or two, I think it kind of hit us a little strong,” Zurales said. “It’s weird to think that it’s ending.”

This season, Zurales has helped Michigan to the inaugural regular-season Big Ten title. Because both Minnesota and Michigan only had one loss in the Big Ten, Michigan shared the regular-season title with the Golden Gophers. As the Big Ten Championships approach this Saturday, Michigan, the meet’s No. 1 seed, hopes to regain the title it missed last year for the first time in eight years.

“We’re all just focusing on having some fun and yes, we really want to reclaim our Big Ten title and maintain the tradition at Michigan,” Zurales said. “(Coach Bev Plocki) sat us down the other day and reminded us of what we’ve accomplished this season. Looking back, it reminded us that we have every reason to be confident going into this weekend.”

The three-time NCAA All-American hopes to conclude her gymnastics career in a different fashion from the previous year. Rather than qualifying for nationals as an individual, she would love to have her entire team up there with her as well.

“I already told my teammates that whoever wants to come in to the gym with me the week after nationals and play around is more than welcome to join me,” Zurales said. “The really fun part about gymnastics is that you just get to play.

“I’ll definitely be around at the meets and popping in and out of the gym every so often.”

Apart from being a dedicated gymnast, Zurales is also a three-time NACGC/W Scholastic All-American. Serious about school, Zurales graduated in the top-five percent of her high school’s class. She is pursuing a degree in movement science on a pre-med track and is planning on applying for medical school the upcoming summer.

“I have just found a true passion for learning about the body, physiology and how it works, and I think that all stemmed from gymnastics because going through the injuries myself and dealing with a bunch of different kinds of doctors, I have seen firsthand in the medical field,” Zurales said.

As reflected through her career interests, gymnastics has been life changing.

“The sport has taught me to persevere through anything,” Zurales said. “As hard as one day might seem, you just have to push through it and realize tomorrow will be better. You have to have a positive outlook if you want to get things accomplished and really enjoy what you do because I found that I do my best gymnastics when I’m having fun and loving it. That’s definitely something I want to take with me into the future and just something I live my life by.”