Friday February 24, 2012Marissa King Finds Gymnastics Keeps Bringing Experiences Beyond Her Dreams
By Mara Rudolph, UF Communications
When junior Marissa King went home to England following her freshman year, a local paper heard about her successful season and wanted to interview her. They asked her about how it felt to be an All-American.
“I said, ‘I can’t tell you what that is. I have no idea.’ I had no idea what it was. I thought you got it if you placed in the top 10 of any event. It was so incorrect,” King said.
Unlike most of her teammates, King had never dreamed of being a college gymnast. Growing up in a family where academics came first and sports were hobbies, King had not been exposed to gymnastics at the collegiate level or the idea of being a student athlete.
“Most of the girls who come in freshman year have seen collegiate gymnastics before. Getting a scholarship or picking a school is a normal routine for them,” she said. “I came into this world completely new. It was like a sheet of white paper with nothing written on it. I had no notes about what was going to happen.”
In the past three years, a lot has happened for King. She spent her freshman year adjusting from the elite level to the collegiate level. That transition went successfully as she picked up three Southeastern Conference Freshman Gymnast of the Week and four All-America honors. She finished her sophomore season as the NCAA vault champion as well as adding two more All-America accolades. Now in her junior season, King has become a leader on the team.
It isn’t just her college experience that King describes as a roller coaster. She said her entire gymnastics career has been a “fast, but good journey.”
“My gymnastics career has been so fast-moving that I haven’t had lifelong dreams. I didn’t start taking gymnastics seriously until I was 14, and I didn’t do my first international until I was 16. I was just going along doing the best that I possibly could,” she said.
Just as King had no aspirations to compete at the college level, she hadn’t dreamed of competing at the Olympics either. She traveled to China in 2007 for a meet somewhat on a whim.
“That’s when the idea came into my mind that I could be in contention,” King said.
A year later, King was competing for Great Britain on the world’s biggest stage.
“I remember walking out of the tunnel, and there were 20,000 people. I looked across the other side of the arena to the very top, and I couldn’t even see the people there,” she said. “We started on vault and when I finished I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I just competed in the Olympic Games!’.”
Her experience in China has led King to consider trying out for a spot on Great Britain’s gymnastics team for this summer’s Olympic Games, which will be hosted in London. The fact that the games are being hosted by her home country is added motivation.
“Even though Great Britain is not a huge country, my family is from there and I lived there my whole life, so being there and competing there would be a really proud moment,” King said.
Though her Olympic goal is always in the back of her mind, with summer still several months away, as well as training to get back to elite competition form and a three-trial selection process, King knows a spot on the Olympic team is no guarantee. Instead, she is focusing on something she can control – her performance as a Gator gymnast.
“I’m focusing my time here because I’m part of this team. I love competing for Florida and I love being a part of the Gators,” King said. “All of the gymnasts are on the same page. After going through two seasons where we haven’t done so well at nationals, this is the year that we’re ready and everyone else feels that too. I’ve focused so hard this semester on just school and gymnastics…no other distractions. I have put everything else aside because I feel like we’re ready this year.”
King’s hard work in the gym has not gone unnoticed. The underclassmen respect her confident leadership, and Head Coach Rhonda Faehn has said King’s dedication and maturity in the gym show that she “has taken ownership of her talent.”
It’s safe to say King’s once-blank sheet of paper about collegiate gymnastics has been filled with notes about team spirit, hard work, and even a definition of what an All-American is. Now she’s ready to add the word championship to it.
“I’m ready to do something great this year with this team,” King said. “Hopefully what we do will make an impact in the postseason.”