The date is February 2, 2019.
New Haven, Conn., and more specifically, the John J. Lee Amphitheater on the campus of Yale University, is the site of the Don Tonry Invitational. Springfield College is one of four teams competing in the event and the only Division III team there.
The scores return for sophomore Sara King’s beam routine. One judge gives an 8.9 and the other an 8.55 good for an 8.725.
8.725 may not be a great score, but it wasn’t just about the final number, it was about the journey there and the journey back to competition.
That’s the approximate distance between Maribor, Slovenia and Springfield College.
Maribor is the second largest city in Slovenia, a small European country with just over two million people in it. So how do Maribor and Springfield College connect?
Whether she’s in Kresge Gym practicing a routine, giving tours as a student ambassador or competing as a member of the Springfield College women’s gymnastics team, that answer can be found in one person.
Sophomore gymnast Sara King.
King’s journey to Springfield and competing hasn’t necessarily been easy. But when you’re willing to travel over 4,000 miles to pursue your dreams of going to college in the United States and do gymnastics at the collegiate level, setbacks are not going to get in King’s way of doing what she loves.
Before Springfield College or even moving to Maribor, for King, her interest in gymnastics began innocently enough.
“I got into gymnastics when I was four,” King said. One of my mom’s friends had a birthday party in the gym and they saw me and said I should try to start training. It’s always been gymnastics form that point on for me.”
King called Maribor home for 10 years, moving there with her mother and brother at the age of eight. Growing up, every gymnast thinks about going to one of the perennial powers of Division I women’s gymnastics like the UCLA’s and the Stanford’s.
After facing some injuries, and other setbacks, King and her father realized Division III might be the best fit.
“Injuries happened and some other setbacks and when I started applying for colleges I started talking to my coach who was like ‘You’re a year too late for any kind of scholarship,’” King explained. “I was also injured so me and my dad kind of reevaluated and looked at Division III schools. At that point after going through high school and having more of a life outside of gymnastics, I thought it would be a much better fit.”
As soon as King took her overnight at Springfield College she knew she may have found her new home.
“I was looking at Division III schools, and this one kind of stood out because Jenn [Najuch] was so excited and willing to setup an overnight … The vibe during the overnight was great,” said King. “It felt like home and that was obviously very important for me that I find somewhere like that given how far I am from home.”
The excitement was just as high on the other end for head coach of women’s gymnastics Jenn Najuch then in her second season of coaching gymnastics at Springfield College when King and her father connected with her.
“I could tell when she visited and communicated with the other team members that she really fit in,” Najuch said. “She’s one of those Springfield kids. We’re really excited to have her and have someone with international experience.”
King was going to have to get acclimated not just to a new school but also a new place, one she had only been for an overnight. Despite the distance, King was not as nervous but more excited to start her new journey.
“I’m used to moving around a lot,” King said. “It was more exciting to see what this would be like in comparison to home. So, it was more exciting than nerve-wracking. I think I’m pretty adaptable to new places so I got the whole American memo really quickly.”
For someone who battled injuries before college, King was accustomed to recovering and getting back in the gym. However, one day in practice last year during her freshman season, she felt her shoulder pop. It was something she had persistently battled. After getting it looked at the doctors recommended surgery.
The surgery would sideline King for six months and would also keep her from competing in her freshman year at Springfield. Though it gave King a chance to focus on the different parts of gymnastics other than competing.
“It’s so cool, because growing up I was never on a team it was just me and my coach,” she explained. “To be on a team of 20 women who strives for being the best as a team is so cool. It’s so different, it’s much more altruistic. You’re not just doing it for you but you’re doing it for your teammates.”
King’s shoulder injury was just the first she would be forced to come back from. After going home over the summer and getting into shape for the new season King injured her ankle was a “wreck” for two days after the injury. Najuch credits King’s work ethic in how King was able to bounce back.
“Instead of giving up she really fought through it. She did as much as she could with her
injured ankle with keeping up her strength and keeping up with her fitness,” Najuch said. She really bounced back fast. Her work ethic in the gym in general I think made her progress a lot faster.”
For King, she never lost her love for gymnastics. Having it taken away with injuries has given her a greater appreciation.
“Getting injured and not being able to compete recently, sparked a newfound appreciation of how much I love the sport and how much I love the feeling of holding a handstand, doing flips, and being able to do things that not many other people can,” said King. “I never lost my love but, not being able to do gymnastics really sparked a greater appreciation getting to do it.”
Not only has King been a force in battling back from injuries, but she also set a goal to be more involved than in just gymnastics – a goal that Najuch has seen achieved this year.
“She made it a goal to be more involved and more active on campus other than gymnastics. She set that for herself in the beginning of the year and she became a student ambassador,” she said. “She really has a zest for life and continues to reach out and create more opportunities for herself which I think is why she is and why she will be successful.”
February 2, was more than a year in the making. Although the result may not have been the best, it was a step forward for King who knows confidence is key moving forward.
“My first meet I was a complete wreck but I was like this is my time,” she said. “I kind of have to work on my confidence and be able to control the nerves.”
Since that meet, King has competed in the next four meets on the beam. Her scores – 9.575, 9.650, 9.325, and 9.650.
King has shown why she is a force to be reckoned with but remains humble in her recent success and credits her teammates and coaches for believing in her.
“I appreciate my coaches and teammates so much because I feel like going through injury and surgery I never felt like they doubted I would come back,” King said. “I always felt they knew I was capable of working hard and coming back from it.”
Come back King has, as she has established herself as one of the key cogs in the Pride’s beam routine as they prepare for the NCGA East Regionals in Cortland on Saturday March 9.
Photo courtesy Sara King