Only weeks before the 2003 season was set to begin, Elise Ray
suffered a season-ending shoulder injury. She knew that the road to
recovery would be long and draining, and it would have been easy
for Ray to put all her time and energy into rehabbing her
shoulder.

Janna Hutz
Michigan gymnast Elise Ray is ready to begin competing again after sitting out all of last season with an injury to her shoulder. The return of the former All-American will make Michigan an immediate national title contender. (FILE PHOTO)

But even though she was unable to compete, her dedication to the
Michigan women’s gymnastics team never wavered.

“I was really bummed out, and it took me a little while to
get over it,” Ray said. “But then I realized that these
things happen, and it comes with the territory of sport. I knew I
had to be there for my team, so my focus completely shifted to
doing anything I could to help the team.”

Throughout the season, Ray acted as a coach and a mentor to her
teammates.

“At meets, I was down on the floor with them, just being
there with them because I couldn’t physically do it
myself.”

Among all the frustrations that an injury brings, what Ray
missed the most was enduring the ups and downs of competition with
the rest of the team.

“When you’re competing every weekend, it gets really
hard, and you have to lean on each other and work as a team,”
Ray said. “The work is all really hard, but then when you
succeed at a meet, it all pays off. I missed that process and being
a part of that because I wasn’t physically
competing.”

The time off has energized Ray, and she said she is “fired
up to get back and learn.” While goals for a national
championship are always in the back of her mind, Ray said she is
trying not to look so far ahead.

“As of now, I just want to get my confidence back and
compete every weekend and feel the team camaraderie.”

In a sport like gymnastics, in which individual achievements are
boldly recognized, it is rare to see a team so dedicated to winning
as a unit rather than individuals.

“Michigan gymnastics has always prided itself on the team
unity and team closeness,” Ray said.

She noted that if everyone is trying to help the team, they will
be doing their best individually, and in turn, individual
accomplishments will take care of themselves.

Ray greatly values the closeness of the team, and she said that
one of the things that is looked at during recruiting is how well
the person will fit in.

Clearly, the “win as a team” attitude has been
effective for Michigan. The women’s gymnastics program has
tallied five consecutive Big Ten titles and 11 of the last 12.

Ray still has two seasons of eligibility left because she
redshirted last year due to injury. Ray’s first two seasons
were among the greatest in Michigan history. In her first season,
she became the first Michigan gymnast to win the NCAA all-around
championship. In her second season, she was crowned the NCAA
balance beam champion.

But Ray selflessly insists that she “would give up any
individual thing to have a team national championship. All the
individual stuff is a bonus.”

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