By Amy Wallace, Josh Marshall, Autumn Lonon and Bevin Fletcher
Twenty-five hours of practice a week, years of dedication, blood, sweat, tears, and injury, all for three and a half minutes of glory. Gymnast and West Virginia University junior Kaylyn Millick, knows all too well what the body endures for the sport she loves.
At the age of four, Millick joined the Gym Dandy’s gym in Washington, Pa.
“I like begged to be enrolled there,” Millick said. “So my grandma ended up taking me to the gym…I think I did a year of pre-team and they just kind of saw something in me that you know you can always tell that one that stands out.”
Millick’s abilities were apparent to coach Karen Clark from the beginning.
“At four years of age you could tell that she had special talent,” Clark said.
By the time Millick was nine or ten, she was moved up to level eight gymnastics. At age 12, Millick went to nationals and was the third youngest competitor there.
One of the first obstacles Millick faced was what her coach called the “I can’t tumble backwards monster,” at the age of 13. At age 15, Millick experienced an even bigger obstacle. She had a stress fracture in her foot.
“I was in a boot for six weeks and they took another x-ray and it still wasn’t healing so I ended up having surgery in May of 2006,” Millick said.
After some conditioning and exercises, Millick had her foot checked again. It still was not healing so she had yet another surgery in September of 2006.
Millick worked her way back up and began competing again in March of 2007. While competing in regionals she noticed her foot hurting again. In August of 2007, she ended up having another surgery.
After sitting out of practices and competitions during her junior year in high school, Millick was back on the mat but not without challenges.
“It was like June by this time and I was running down the vault runway and I felt a pop in my ankle,” Millick said. “I ended up tearing my tendon in the same foot so I had to get surgery again in August 2008.”
After this fourth surgery, there were many struggles.
“All through her surgeries, she was in the gym, encouraging her teammates, leading by example,” Coach Clark said. “The third surgery started to wear her down.”
“After the third one I was just like I can’t even go in the gym anymore. I don’t even want to watch people it just makes you so upset because like I said you work so hard and then I worked so hard to come back every time,” Millick said. “After the fourth one it’s just like ok…you get to the point where you’re like should I continue?”
Millick’s doctor was not sure what to do. There were many tears from Millick, Coaches and parents. The doctors were not sure if she should continue or not and Coach Clark began to try to prepare her for this.
“He [the doctor] was trying to prepare her [Millick] for life without gymnastics,” Clark said. “We discussed other avenues with the sport: judging, coaching, teaching. She had a lot to offer people.”
After a lot of speculation from the doctors on whether she should continue or not, they
finally gave her the go ahead to perform but Millick wasn’t sure how much longer she would be able to. Her chances of getting a scholarship were slim.
“I thought I had no chance when I had been a level ten since I was in fifth grade.”
“Scotty and I encouraged her to take a full scholarship to Eastern Michigan,” Coach Clark said on Millick’s struggle to come back. “They were the only ones willing to take a risk after she had the tendon surgery.”
While at Eastern Michigan, Millick was not happy.
“I had many crying phone calls,” Coach Clark said, “but she had promised to give it a year.”
After a year at Eastern Michigan, a former WVU and Gym Dandy’s gymnast made the coaching staff at West Virginia aware of Millick and she took the offer to transfer. The move has made her feel much more at home.
Through all of the trials and tribulations, Millick never gave up.
“Kaylyn is one of the most fun and energetic girls on the team,” WVU teammate Beth Deal said. “If anyone is having a down day or needs lifted up, Kay is there for that person. She works hard in everything she does and she’s a great leader”
“Having those surgeries made me believe that this is what I want to do and this is what I love,” Millick said.