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Davis, California

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Ito defies odds, powers back to the floor

After three surgeries, sophomore gymnast Alyssa Ito earns honors recognition

Year after year, collegiate gymnastics progressively gains the attention of sports fans and casual spectators. Though many admire the hard work and determination the athletes put into this sport as well as the difficulty of the routines, some have tuned in due to the increasing realization that gymnastics is an overall tough sport to participate in.

This April, collegiate gymnastics experienced a surge in viewership but not for the reason one might think. Auburn University gymnast Samantha Cerio dislocated both of her knees and broke both of her legs during a floor routine at the NCAA gymnastics final in Baton Rouge, La. Videos of her career-ending injury surfaced across many social media platforms, and the realization of not only the difficulty but the dangerous nature of gymnastics became apparent.

Collegiate gymnastics is a sport in which serious injuries can be common. Sophomore Aggie gymnast Alyssa Ito knows firsthand about these type of complications on the gymnastics floor. After surgery to repair a torn ACL in high school, Ito suffered a tear in her meniscus, leading toa second surgery in her last year of high school. Realizing that her knee was still not in good shape when she first came to UC Davis, a third surgery for a meniscus clean-up was needed, which caused her to redshirt her freshman year.

“It was really disappointing for me,” Ito said. “Talking to Coach, he kept reminding me that I was going to get back and everything was going to be okay. It made me keep those positive thoughts, and I really wanted to get back into competition and do what I have done my entire life.”

It was the support of other injured and rehabbing athletes at UC Davis that gave Ito the mental drive to keep pushing forward.

“I feel like [the rehab process] is more mental because you have to have that motivation to get the help that you need,” Ito said. “Mainly having good people around you that have had similar experiences and hearing their story, I see all of these athletes coming back [from injury], which means I should be able to do it too.”

After an extensive stint in rehab for her numerous injuries, Ito has gone on in her sophomore season to earn numerous awards. She earned All-Mountain Pacific Sports Federation accolades, ranked third in the MSPF beam event with a score of 9.835 and was one of three Aggies to qualify and compete in the NCAA Corvallis Regionals in April. Additionally, Ito earned 2019 All-MPSF second team on the uneven bars and first team on the balance beam. All-MPSF teams are based on national-qualifying scores on RoadToNationals.com. For each of the four events plus the all-around, the top-ranked gymnast from each team earns a spot on the all-conference list, as well as next six gymnasts on the list. From those 12, the top six receive first-team honors and the remaining six make second team.

Ito reflected that speaking to others about her injuries and battling back to the floor offers outsiders a glimpse into the dangerous and difficult nature of the sport.

“I think that there are people that undermine the physicality of the sport,” Ito said. “But I think that there are also people that understand you have to be strong to be able to do all this stuff. There are people that say it is easy but there are also people that realize how much of a physical impact and how serious [gymnastics] can be. Once people ask if I have gotten injured and I tell them everything that has happened they really open their eyes to the nature of the sport.”

Along with her other accolades, Ito was named to the MPSF All-Academic honor roll and received an  “Outstanding Contribution Award” from her team, a testament to the fact that being a collegiate gymnast takes more than meets the eye. Stories of hardship and redemption, like Ito’s, have helped to increase the public’s respect for gymnasts as well as for the sport of gymnastics as a whole.

“Going back to freshman year I didn’t really believe in myself a whole lot and didn’t know if I would fit in or was good enough,” Ito said. “My first year was rough trying to get back into things and getting to compete again sophomore year, it made me want to compete again and want to work harder. Coming back I was even more motivated because I wanted to show that UC Davis gymnastics is better than what people perceive it to be.”

The sport of gymnastics requires a significant amount of hard work and dedication to compete at a high level. The sheer amount of strength and agility that gymnasts must display is impressive in its own right — even without considering the injuries they risk on a daily basis. It isn’t easy being a gymnast, and athletes like Ito continue to show spectators why gymnastics deserve a lot more attention.

Written by: Ryan Bugsch — sports@theaggie.org


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