NEW PALESTINE — Not long ago, Regan Elsea hated gymnastics.
She was burned out. For more than a decade, Elsea dedicated her life to an anxiety-inducing sport that consumed most of her time, was intensely competitive and required her to sacrifice the future health of her body.
Elsea had become one of the best in Indiana, but when a sophomore-year fall from the uneven bars during a club event tore up her right shoulder and stripped her of the promise she’d worked so hard to achieve, it was the final straw in her disenchantment with the sport.
During her six-month-long recovery, Elsea had all but sworn off a return to the gym.
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That is why it seems strange to her to that on Saturday, she will be leading a heavily favored New Palestine team into the Connersville sectional.
A lot can change in a few months.
The longer her injury took to heal, the more adamant Elsea was about not returning to club gymnastics. That part of her life, she knew, was over.
But her parents pleaded with her not to give up what had been such an integral part of her life. Leave the door open, if only cracked they said, for the possibility of competing in the more relaxed atmosphere of high school gymnastics.
For months they pushed and were rebuffed. It was not until Elsea received her first taste of what high school gymnastics might be like, that she began to reconsider.
Her younger sister Rylee joined the Dragons team as a freshman, so Regan attended the event.
It was there, her now-coach Jenny Musselmann said she believes, that Regan might have begun to remember the joy that could accompany gymnastics.
“You could see the wheels turning when she was watching,” Musselmann said. “She could see that this would not be the same as club. There is a much different attitude with club gymnastics versus high school. High school is team-oriented. Club is very individualized. Everybody wants to be the best. And jealousy creeps up on some people.
“I told her the environment would be totally different. ‘You would have so much more fun, here.’”
With a little more encouragement from her parents, Mussellman and Rylee, Regan finally caved.
She hit the ground running, notching some of the Dragons’ highest scores in the meets after her return, yet she did not regain the love she had once felt. It fact, her resentment toward the sport climaxed.
“I was really unmotivated for a while. I actually started to hate the sport,” Regan said. “Just because I never got the skills back that I used to have. It was frustrating. “
Not being able to function at full capacity was not something she was used to. She struggled to deal with it, her sister said.
But Regan worked through it. And, had she been allowed to compete in the postseason last year, she would have given the Dragons a great chance of qualifying for state for a second straight season.
Unfortunately, Regan joined the Dragons too late into the year, and IHSAA regulations did not allow her to compete.
It was yet another devastating blow to Regan in her gymnastics career.
After finally allowing herself to be coaxed back into the sport, and just as she was beginning to feel a little like her old self, the rug was swept out from under her.
“It was really hard,” said Regan, now a senior. “I didn’t think I was even ever going to come back to gymnastics. So when I came back, I was so excited. … And then, bad news again. It was, ‘Sorry, You can’t do it.’ It was so frustrating because I knew I could have done so well and helped our team.”
Another huge disappointment could have devoured Regan, Musselmann said. Instead, she handled the news the way a dedicated teammate should.
“She became sort of an assistant coach,” Musselman said. “At the time, she was fresh out of club with new techniques and new way of looking at things. She helped us as a team to improve. We were all bummed about (her not being able to compete), but she handled it well and helped finish the season best we could.”
Not only that, but Regan drew some motivation out of last season’s disappointment. With only one year remaining in her high school career, Regan knew she would have to make her senior year count.
“I got really pumped (at the state meet last year).” Regan said. “ I was watching Kate (Fee), like ‘OK let’s go. I’m ready for next season.’ I knew I really wanted to go out with a bang.”
No rule will keep Regan from helping the Dragons reach their full potential this year.
With a clean bill of health and two-time state qualifier Fee by her side, Regan is ready to make the 2014-15 Dragons a team to remember.
Regardless of the season’s outcome, though, Regan couldn’t be happier competing with the Dragons.
“Now that I’m back, I think it was the best decision ever,” she said. “I love high school gymnastics. Had I known it was this fun, I would have done it way sooner.”
Name: Regan Elsea
School: New Palestine
Events: Balance beam, floor exercise, uneven bars, vault
Favorite event: Balance beam. “I really just love it because I zone everything else out. It’s just me and the beam. It’s one of those events where you don’t get tired of working on your skills. It’s just fun. You always have something new to work on.”
Meet motivator: “I actually listen to Spanish hip-hop music. I don’t know why (laughs). It just gets me pumped up.”
Lucky llama: Elsea wears llama socks to every meet for good luck. Why? “I don’t know. Lucky llama. I like the alliteration.”
What’s next?: Elsea plans to study kinesiology at the University of Indianapolis. She also aims to continue her CrossFit — competitive high-intensity workouts — career.
Saturday, 11 gymnastics teams will converge at Connersville’s Spartan Bowl to help kick off the 43rd Annual IHSAA State Tournament at the Sectional 6 tournament. The New Palestine Dragons will be seeking revenge on their hosts, as last year, the Spartans kept them from securing back-to-back sectional titles. Here is how this year’s tournament shapes up.
Time: Opening ceremonies begin at 11:30 a.m.
Competitors: Cambridge City Lincoln, Centerville, Connersville, Morristown, Muncie Central, New Castle, New Palestine, Richmond, Rushville Consolidated, Seton Catholic, Shelbyville.
Team advancement: In order to advance to the March 13 regional at Columbus East, a team must finish in the top three.
Individual advancement: The top six in each event advance to the regional, as well as the top six in the all-around competition. All gymnasts who receive the score of the sixth-place gymnast at the previous state finals meet also move on. Automatic qualifying scores are as follows: bars — 9.5; beam — 9.3; vault — 9.525; floor exercise — 9.45; all-around — 37.225.