Maggie O’Hara thought she’d broken the floor.
As she punched out after a near perfect round-off back handspring she thought she’d hit a dead spot. The wood must have broken beneath her.
Instead, she had torn her Achilles tendon — a season-ending injury.
O’Hara was warming up the first pass in what would have been her career debut on floor — as a junior. Typically she competed on beam, but her teammate, then-senior Emma McLean, was suffering from a shoulder injury and was unable to compete. After an exhibition performance against Alabama, O’Hara was ready, stepping into the role without a second thought.
“We needed someone to step in,” O’Hara said. “I was like, ‘You know what, I can push through like one routine.’ ”
O’Hara is not unfamiliar with injury. During both her freshman and sophomore season, she suffered from concussions: the first after a bad mount on bars resulted in a fist to the head, and the second after a poor overshot ended with a whiplash into the mat. O’Hara’s days of competition were over for the time being. With continuous recovery programming, O’Hara eventually got better — only to have her dreams of getting back to competition derailed once again at the end of her sophomore year.
“It was really frustrating, the first one was definitely a learning experience,” O’Hara said. “I was super excited to get back into my sophomore year and I had been working hard all summer. The second one was just kind of like another punch in the stomach.”
Before O’Hara’s struggles with injury came her passion for gymnastics. After following in her brother’s footsteps, swimming, and playing basketball and soccer, she ended up in a dance class. After a suggestion from her teacher to try tumbling, she was hooked.
“I went to the gym just solely to learn how to (tumble) and I was like, ‘I’m done, I like this better,’ ” O’Hara said.
O’Hara grew up in Lexington, S.C. and because her high school was without a gymnastics team she attended Southeastern Gymnastics — a club in Wettington, N.C.
“I lived two hours away from my gym so I spent four hours in the car every day and still went to a public high school, but it was amazing,” O’Hara said. “I went to a pretty prestigious club gym and it was just constant competition within the gym which made gymnastics both fun and competitive.”
O’Hara’s early commitment to gymnastics has proven to be vital in her collegiate years and allowed her to keep a positive mentality through the grueling years of recovery.
“I think a lot of just mentally putting myself in the place of one more day, it’s one more day,” she said.
This positive mentality was sparked by her former teammate Olivia Karas. Karas had torn her Achilles at approximately the same time the season before. Additionally, two other Michigan teammates have torn their Achilles.
“Getting back into it, they were like, just keep reminding yourself it’s going to come back,” O’Hara said. “It’s fun to have someone who’s gone through it just because they are constantly motivating you and reminding you that it’s possible, and it is going to come with time.”
Along with her teammate’s support, O’Hara’s family has played a crucial role in her collegiate career. Her sister Gracie, who was born with several health issues and is also a gymnast, has been O’Hara’s inspiration.
“She’s a constant motivation for me,” said O’Hara. “She’s always like, ‘Hey look what I did in the gym today,’ and I’m like, ‘You know, if she can do it so can I.’ ”
After three long years of continuous recovery O’Hara is ready to get back to competition — especially for her senior season. She’s returning to the team as a senior leader with a renewed passion for gymnastics.
“I’m super excited, we have a really strong team this season and I love gymnastics if not more than I have in the past,” O’Hara said. “The thought of being in front of fans again and being with my team is so motivating. Excited is an understatement.”