Last weekend, women’s gymnast Elise Ray gave a performance
that left no doubt that she was a former Olympian.

But while many might know about the Olympic rings tattooed on
her shoulder, few probably realize how much scar tissue lies
underneath.

“It still hurts, just the scar tissue and everything, but
as long as it’s stable, I can work through the pain,”
Ray said.

The injury came early last season when Ray overextended her
shoulder and briefly dislocated it during a tumbling pass. Michigan
coach Bev Plocki said that Ray tried traditional rest and
rehabilitation, but soon realized that surgery was the only way to
strengthen the shoulder so that it didn’t continue to pop out
of the socket.

“She’s very flexible in her shoulders and that makes
her prone to these types of injuries,” Plocki said.

Ray’s recovery has been impressive, considering that after
her surgery last March, she didn’t step back into the gym
until September.

“Over the summer I really concentrated on keeping in shape
aerobically, because I wasn’t allowed to do gymnastics
yet,” Ray said.

She quickly honed her gymnastics skills, building enough
confidence to lead Michigan in almost all events. Against Nebraska
on January 11 — her first competition since 2002 — Ray
won the beam with a 9.950 and placed second on vault.

“It’s a scary process,” Ray said of her return
to the gym.

“The surgery on my shoulder made it secure, but I was
still scared because I injured it during gymnastics.”

Though she had to take “baby steps” for a while, Ray
said she knows her body well enough to know what she had to do. In
fact, she felt so good about her redeveloped skills that she
started to expect a little too much of herself.

“It felt like I hadn’t even taken any time
off,” Ray said of competing in the team’s intrasquad
meet to begin the season. “But then my expectations went very
high for myself, so that when the first couple of meets
didn’t go perfect, I was disappointed.

“Then I kind of had to step back and say, ‘Elise,
you took a year off, give yourself a break.’ I really just
took a step back and refocused.”

That kind of focus allowed her to win the all-around last
weekend at the Wolverines’ first home meet of the season
against Michigan State, scoring 9.900 on three events.

At this point, Plocki said Ray may start adding in some bigger
moves to help her routines. These moves were left out to begin the
season in order to help her get back on her feet.

“She started with some pretty basic routines, for her what
are fairly simple routines, but still have 10.0 start
values,” Plocki said. “When you’re coming back
from an injury, you have to regain confidence. You can’t be
going out there thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, I hope (my shoulder)
doesn’t do that again.’ ”

Plocki isn’t afraid to draw a comparison to Ray’s
freshman season, during which she was coming off of an injury to
her other shoulder.

“She dislocated her other shoulder at the Olympic games
and amazingly continued to compete,” Plocki said. “When
she came here in January, we had to start out really slow. At the
end of the year, she won the all-around at the NCAA
Championships.”

A repeat of that performance could be in the works.

For now, though, Ray and her teammates will concentrate on the
upcoming State of Michigan Classic, in which Michigan will host
four other Michigan schools at 8 p.m. this Friday at Crisler
Arena.

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