As an adventurous four-year-old, Sarah Curtis used to try out her own flips and tumbles on the sidelines of her older sister’s gymnastics practices.
“Eventually, my mom decided it’d be safer to put me in the sport rather than me doing it on the side,” Curtis said with a laugh.
Sixteen years later, that flexible little girl has become one of Michigan’s elite gymnasts.
The sophomore has dominated the competition all season. Curtis and fifth-year senior Lindsey Bruck have finished 1-2 in the all-around three times this season – including in crucial wins over Minnesota and No. 1 Georgia.
Curtis’s 39.600-point all-around score last week against the Gym Dogs was the highest total in the Big Ten this season, and bested her previous career-high by .200.
But last year was a very different story.
The Reno, Nev., native spent her freshman year sidelined by an Achilles tendon injury suffered just three weeks into the season. Bruck experienced the same injury in last year’s season-opening meet. The two rehabilitated together, but neither was at full strength until this fall.
“(Curtis) had a different role last year, sidelined with her Achilles,” senior Katie Lieberman said. “She would cheer us on during meets and stay really supportive. This year, she still has that supportive role, but also she’s able to help the team gymnastically.”
Curtis’ efforts have earned her positions in all four event lineups this season. She and Bruck are the only two gymnasts who compete in the all-around for the Wolverines. Curtis said the balance beam has been her most improved event, and her progress is evident with her 9.820 average score on the event.
“Everyone respects her because of how hard she worked to come back from the injury and do what she’s doing today,” Michigan coach Bev Plocki said.
Plocki and Lieberman both say Curtis “leads by example.” She’s a quiet motivator in the gym who works with teammates who are having a rough day. But during competitions, Curtis offers vocal support and even an occasional joke to ease the tension.
She has also silently but steadily collected a slew of event titles this season, including three each on floor exercise and vault. Curtis’s vault routine has been the same for years, and she said it comes very naturally to her. Against Georgia, Curtis earned a career-high 9.950-point score on the apparatus.
Curtis was named Big Ten Gymnast of the Week three times this season, most recently after capturing last weekend’s all-around crown.
Even though she’s finally had a chance to prove herself, a year removed from hobbling on crutches, Curtis doesn’t like to talk about her personal achievements.
“She’s a very selfless competitor,” Plocki said. “When you mention to her anything about individual accolades, she just kind of shrugs her shoulders and giggles.”