Olympian gymnast finds balance between school and training

Sonia Shah, a gymnast. Photo courtesy of Rajesh J Shah.

Swimmer Michael Phelps had a lot on his plate when he won a record eight gold medals at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. Imagine if he had three hours of homework a night and an 8 a.m. class to look forward to in the morning.

The heavy workload is nothing new to Marquette student-athlete Sonia Shah, a nationally ranked gymnast, who is currently training for world competitions.

“Time management is everything,” said Shah, a freshman in the College of Arts & Sciences. “There’s a lot going on throughout my day, and the only way I can get it all done with is if I plan it all out.”

Shah has been juggling responsibilities and training since she first began general gymnastics at age 3, and then moved to her specialty, trampoline and tumbling, at age 7.

After winning the silver medal at the 2010 U.S. championships, she is now the top ranked gymnast in the 17 to 18-year-old age group for tumbling and trampoline, and the second overall ranked category gymnast in the country.

“I really enjoy competing,” Shah said. “Competing is all about performing when the pressure is on and making sure all those practices counted for something.”

Though her ambitions are now set on medaling at the November Trampoline World Championship in Metz, France, Shah is only a year removed from a ghastly career-threatening injury.

While training for the national qualifiers a year ago, Shah took a spill on the trampoline while trying a new routine and landed on her head. She lay on the mat motionless, waiting for the ambulance to arrive.

Mandy Moore, the trampoline and tumbling program director at Shah’s gym, was one of the coaches working when she fell.

“It was an incredibly scary moment,” Moore said. “Initially, as coaches we had to keep calm. But when the ambulance left, that’s when the fear really set in.”

After returning to light training a month later, Shah felt her back give out after stretching and was rushed to the hospital once again.

“There was definitely a point where I thought it was all over and I could never do gymnastics again,” she said.

After the second incident, Shah wore a brace for three months and underwent physical therapy, all in the hopes of getting back near half-strength for qualifiers.

Shah said it was a tough road to recovery, but she made it back in time to compete and qualify for the national team.

“She’s a very hard worker,” said Shah’s father, Rajesh Shah. “She refused to let the injury keep her from doing what she loves.

She doesn’t ever want to give up.”