Tuesday, August 20, 2002

Sheehan makes U.S. gymnastics team

By Gary Estwick gestwick@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Samantha Sheehan
(Tony Jones photo)
| ZOOM |
        Samantha Sheehan didn't look like a future member of the U.S. Senior Women's Gymnastics team last year. In her mind, the sport that had taken up much of her time was losing its luster.

        “I wasn't really having fun with gymnastics all that much,” she said.

        Then her career changed.

        During a practice session last November, Sheehan was attempting a double-back somersault and felt something in her foot during a takeoff. She went to the doctor the next day, and he told her that she had fractured her right heel.

        The injury required surgery and rehab, and the 16-year-old Sheehan had to miss five months of competition.

        Sheehan didn't realize how much she loved gymnastics until she couldn't compete anymore. So as she watched her teammates practice, she vowed to return with renewed dedication.

        She fulfilled her vow at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships two weeks ago in Cleveland. The Villa Hills, Ky., teenager placed 11th and clinched a spot on the U.S.team.

        “I think I was able to be successful this season because of that injury,” said Sheehan, who could be invited to the World Championships, held Nov. 20-24 in Hungary.

        Her coach, Mary Lee Tracy, felt all along Sheehan would recover from her heel injury and excel.

        “I did believe she had a shot because I know Samantha and how diligent she would be about her workout,” Tracy said. “With her physical therapy, I knew she wouldn't do it halfway, and that's the only way she could make it.”

        Sheehan used her time on the sidelines to work on her weaknesses. She couldn't jump around, but she could practice on the uneven bars, an apparatus on which she needed to become more consistent.

        Wearing a cast on her foot, Sheehan got a lift up to the bars from someone else. Later, she jumped off one foot.

        There was also a mental side to Sheehan's rehab. She always seemed to do everything right in practice, but in competition, she often got scared and didn't trust her training. To combat that, Tracy made Sheehan complete drills Tracy calls “virtual training.” Sheehan visualized a competition - everything from walking into a stadium to performing her routine step-by-step.

        “The mind remembers things, and we wanted her mind to remember a great performance,” Tracy said. “So when she walked into the arena, it creates almost a deja vu.”


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