Shealy’s best season came after frightening fall in practice


Photo: Huiling Wu/ Iowa State Daily

Michelle Shealy stretches her back injury on Tuesday, April 30 at the practice room. 

Maddy Arnold

The 2013 season was Michelle Shealy’s best ever, but it almost never happened.

Shealy made it to the NCAA Championships on April 19, 2013, where she competed as an individual all-around gymnast. She tied for fifth on beam, the highest-ever finish by a Cyclone at the beam final.

Last October, the ISU gymnastics team began working on its routines for the upcoming season. In practice, Shealy attempted what she thought would be a normal routine on the uneven bars.

She was supposed to perform a double front and a dismount with two front flips that she has successfully executed for years. Instead, she felt tired and wanted to attempt only one flip, but over-rotated and landed directly on top of her head.

“My perspective 10 feet away was there’s a possibility she didn’t survive that crash,” said ISU gymnastics coach Jay Ronayne. “So all this goes on in my head in a split second: She might be dead, she might be paralyzed, she might be severely injured. Going through the very worst and going back from there.

“I couldn’t imagine anything that was good that was going to happen from this. The first good thing that I heard was her screaming. I knew she was alive. The second thing good I could see, she could voluntarily move her limbs.”

Ronayne and the training staff immediately attended to Shealy after the fall. After she was stabilized, Shealy was allowed to move.

“I’m not going to lie; I thought that I might have been paralyzed,” Shealy said. “It wasn’t until I moved my toe that I was like, ‘OK, I’m good,’ because I knew that I could feel my legs and everything. That was probably one of the best feelings ever because I definitely thought that could have been career-ending.”

Once Shealy was able to walk, she was taken to get medical attention. Shealy was not diagnosed with any injuries, but had to take some time off because of soreness and lack of mobility.

“It was a miracle,” Shealy said. “I don’t know how else to describe it because of how I landed, and nothing happened. That was an awesome miracle.”

Shealy said that she took a full week off from gymnastics after the fall. She did well with cardiovascular conditioning, but was in pain after jumping or doing anything with an impact.

Milan Ivory, who returned from an injury to her Achilles tendon earlier this season, said getting in the right state of mind was the most difficult thing about recovering from what could have been a career-ending injury.

“It’s hard physically, of course, but also mentally, especially doing that skill that you did hurt yourself on,” Ivory said. “It’s kind of just like a mind game getting yourself back to doing it and mentally knowing that you can do it and knowing that it’s not going to happen again.”

Shealy said she moved on quickly from the fall, and she was not afraid of the dismount when she began practicing on bars again.

“I knew that I wasn’t done with gymnastics and I had to compete bars, and so I couldn’t let it hold me back,” Shealy said. “Mentally I was fine. I knew I had to get back, so I did it.”

After the fall, Shealy went on to have the best season of her career. She competed at nationals as an all-around gymnast and made it to an event final for the first time ever.

Her 9.8375 on beam at nationals was the highest score ever by a Cyclone on the beam final. Shealy said the incident at the beginning motivated her this season.

“She told me specifically she feels there is really no reason outwardly that she should have survived this,” Ronayne said. “There is a reason why she survived that and she’s going to make the most of that.”