Michigan gymnasts Sam Roy and Polina Shchennikova experienced the end of their careers sooner than expected, thus affecting their mental health. Now they’re student coaches in their senior years on campus. Ben Blevins featured the duo for MGoBlue.com.
By Ben Blevins
College gymnasts spend nearly their entire lives participating in the sport they love, and the ending can be difficult to cope with. When the end comes to sooner than expected, it can be even harder to accept.
That is what happened to University of Michigan seniors Sam Roy and Polina Shchennikova in 2018.
Both gymnasts were coming off a second straight Big Ten championship season and were ready to contribute again in 2019. However, for different reasons, both gymnasts would see their collegiate careers come to a close before their junior season could get underway.
Shchennikova was seeing doctors about back pain when she was told that continuing in gymnastics would be too much of a health risk.
“I refused to believe it for the longest time,” said Shchennikova. “When they first told me I was unable to do gymnastics any more I immediately went into a dark hole and refused to talk to anybody. I didn’t believe it was true.”
“When they first told me I was unable to do gymnastics any more I immediately went into a dark hole and refused to talk to anybody. I didn’t believe it was true.” — Polina Shchennikova
For Roy, it wasn’t an injury but a culmination of things outside of the gym that were affecting her in a negative way.
“My mental health wasn’t in a good place,” Roy said. “I wasn’t recognizing it because I was focused on my goals in the gym. I was very quiet about that stuff. When it came time to step away, my initial reaction was anger. I felt like I had failed myself.”
After both made the decision to retire from gymnastics, head coach Bev Plocki offered them an opportunity to become student assistant coaches.
“Any time you end up having to give up the sport you love it is difficult emotionally,” said Plocki. “I wanted them to still feel like they were a part of the team.”
Even though the two were continuing to be a part of the program, the first several months were extremely difficult.
They still wanted to be training in the gym, but were trying to learn how to be a coach instead. It still hurt, it was still hard to accept, and it was a daily reminder of what was taken away from them.
Read the rest of the story on MGoBlue.com.