Radical Recreation: Morgan Ross soars to maximum potential

Morgan Ross poses during promotional photos for the gymnastics team. Ross has one year of eligibility in gymnastics remaining. Photo credit: Morgan Ross

Even before Morgan Ross, environmental studies and Spanish major, could remember, gymnastics has been her life. It started with her mother, who was a gymnastics coach, which allowed Ross to start at a young age. However, it was her decision to continue on with the sport. After starting gymnastics at UAA as a walk-on, two years later Ross’s hard work paid off after gaining a scholarship at UAA for gymnastics.

“My mom is a gymnastics coach so I started before I can even remember, I have been a ‘gym rat’ my whole life. The running joke is that I started gymnastics before I was born because my mom was doing flips and coaching in the gym while she was pregnant with me,” Ross said. “Starting gymnastics wasn’t really a choice, but when I got older my parents always gave me the option to continue. In middle and high school, the girls my age all started to quit, and I just had a goal to stay in and make it to college.”

This past season, Ross was an all-around competitor for gymnastics at UAA including vault, floor, beam and bars. This year she focused on expanding her difficulty on the floor, beam, bars and perfecting her vault.

“Even though I compete in all the events, my favorite event is floor. I grew up studying ballet and doing competitive dance along with gymnastics, so the performance aspect combined with powerful tumbling passes plays well to my strengths,” Ross said. “My favorite skill is called a full-in pike, it is a new addition to my floor routine this year. It is a full twisting double back flip, in which the full twist happens in the first flip and the second flip is in pike position.”

Although physical ability is a main aspect in gymnastics, mental preparation is key in reaching any goal.

“Gymnastics is a sport that requires just as much mental strength as it does physical strength, learning new skills can be really scary and sometimes even when your body is physically ready you still have to push through the fear aspect,” Ross said.

Starting at a young age, Ross had an advantage in achieving her goals in gymnastics. Through the countless hours of dedication put into practicing, the thought of quitting never crossed her mind.

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“Gymnastics is not a sport where you can start in high school or even middle school and still be very successful, most gymnasts start around age three and start competing between ages five and seven. It takes so much time out of your life and for such a long period of time, so you really have to be dedicated,” Ross said. “Most competitive gymnasts practice between 25 and 30 hours a week all year long. There isn’t really an ‘off season’ because gymnastics takes constant maintenance and progress.”

After spending her whole life committed to the sport of gymnastics, it quickly became not only a sport but who she is as a person.

“I love gymnastics, honestly gymnastics isn’t just a sport for me, it is an identity. I have committed so much of my life to doing it that I don’t know who I am without it,” Ross said. “Even after nearly 18 years of practice, I still come in to the gym every day and have something new to learn. The more you learn, the more exciting and fun it gets. Nothing compares to the thrill of making improvements and showing them off in competition.”

Even though gymnastics is an individual sport, having a team’s support is one of Ross’ favorite aspects about participating in college gymnastics.

“The best feeling is when you hit your routine in competition and the team comes running up to you and everyone gives you high fives and hugs and is super proud and vice versa,” Ross said. “I love being there to support my team, my teammates are my best friends, it’s pretty hard not to become friends with them when you spend upwards of 20 hours a week together.”

Ross recently ruptured her Achilles tendon and had surgery for her injury. She is working towards recovery by working out almost every day to prepare for the next year of gymnastics, which will also be her last at UAA.

“For next season I plan on coming back stronger than ever. I want to compete all-around and up my difficulty on every event,” Ross said. “Right now I am just focusing on maintaining my strength while I recover, so I am going into the weight room to workout about six days a week, and going in to watch practice and cheer on the other girls as much as possible.”

Once college is over, Ross will be done with gymnastics. Even though the change from doing gymnastics all her life will be drastic, she is open to other physical activities to attain. Besides finding another hobby, Ross wants to work towards her Ph.D. and become a vegetation ecologist.

“I still want to stay active and fit after gymnastics, but I’m not sure what I will do yet since I will have to let go of something that has been constant throughout my entire life,” Ross said. “I want to go to grad school after I graduate next year, so I will try to get a graduate assistant spot on a gymnastics team somewhere in the Lower 48. Eventually, I want to become a vegetation ecologist, but not until after I get a Ph.D., so that’s a long way away. Right after I graduate I want to ease myself out of gymnastics and start the search for a new athletic passion, rock climbing is looking promising.”

Ross is grateful for her decision to stick with gymnastics and make it to college doing what she loves. The self-determination and friendships made through the sport was worth the difficulties and long hours of practice and dedication.

“Gymnastics is an amazing sport that teaches dedication, physical and mental strength, coordination and drive. I am so glad I stuck with it through all these years and I am extremely grateful to be able to pursue the sport I love at the Division I collegiate level,” Ross said. “My teammates are the hardest working, most supportive people that I know and I am lucky to have them in my life. For all the times I’ve had to say ‘Sorry, I can’t. I have practice,’ I wouldn’t trade that for anything.”

Injury or not, Ross is fully dedicated to pursing a 4.0 GPA and competing at up her difficulty for every gymnastics event. Her plans after this semester are to spend her last summer in Anchorage and use the time for hiking, backpacking, kayaking and camping before leaving state. Ross plans to keep pushing through her last year of college and ending the next season of gymnastics with a bang.