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Utah gymnastics: Maddy Stover battles pain, finds ways to contribute to team

Published February 16, 2017 10:10 am

Utah gymnastics • Stover keeps competing even after rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis.
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She tried to ignore the pain at first, believing the aches in her wrist joints had something to do with a previous surgery. But the pain became so fierce that going down the stairs was as much of a challenge as anything Utah gymnast Maddy Stover had attempted in competition.

"I had to walk down the stairs one at a time, and I couldn't sleep I was in so much pain," she said. "It was a scary time. I didn't know what was happening to me, and I had no idea how I was going to compete."

It was July of 2015, a time when Stover should have been focusing on an upcoming sophomore year in which she could build on her freshman effort for the Utes, when she was the team's most consistent performer on beam.

She instead wondered if she ever would compete again, especially after doctors finally diagnosed all of her aches and pains as rheumatoid arthritis. It's an autoimmune disease in which the immune system is triggered and results in inflammation, particularly in the joints. Joints in the wrists, hands, feet, elbows, knees and ankles commonly are affected. Those are, of course, the joints that often take much of the demand of gymnastics.

According to the Rochester Epidemiology Project, which provides the most recent data on the disease, 41 out of 100,00 people in the U.S. were diagnosed with the disease from 1995 to 2007. And Stover fell into the rare category of only 8.7 per 100,000 people between the ages of 18-34 years diagnosed with the disease.

Being categorized as unusual was little comfort to Stover, who worried her athletic career was over.

"Going upside down should never be painful like it was," she said. "My fingers were so swollen I couldn't even hold a pen and write. Those things shouldn't be happening to someone my age."

Luckily, Stover has learned to manage the pain with the help of medicine and a carefully designed workout program that includes a lot of hot tub time to keep her joints warm. She performs more cardio than others on off days because it is best to keep the joints moving, she said.

"I do a lot of plyometrics just to remind my body it is capable of that," she said. "This is really rare for athletes to have it, and especially for gymnasts. But I have accepted it, and even though I'm limited depending on the day, I can still do the sport I love."

Stover only has contributed on the balance beam this year in part due to the disease but also because of offseason shoulder surgery. The shoulder has healed enough to allow her to start working a floor routine.

"It's not quite there, but I hope to have it ready for regionals and nationals," she said. "I'm getting more aggressive with the tumbling, so it's coming."

Even though she is competing in just one event, Stover is a vital member of the team because she is a natural leader, coach Megan Marsden said.

Stover, who was voted a co-captain along with Baely Rowe, is vocal and assertive, taking gymnasts aside in practice or meets to offer encouragement.

"She might be one of the best leaders I can remember in recent years," Marsden said. "There is something special about her. I call her an old soul. I feel bad that her gymnastics career hasn't gone the way she had hoped, but she is finding another way to make an incredible difference in the program."

Since she competes only on the beam, Stover said she has an opportunity to watch and notice what others might not see because they are wrapped up in her events.

"I need to be active and participating with the team," she said. "I still love this sport and I have a lot of passion for it, so this is a good opportunity to help in a different way." —

Maddy Stover

Year • Junior

Height • 5-1

Hometown • Fullerton, Calif.

Of note • Second-team All-American on balance beam for the 2016 regular season…1st-team All-Pac-12 on the beam in 2016…Has six career victories…Has hit 35-of-38 routines…NACGC Scholar All-American, Dean's List and Athletic Director's Honor Roll…Mother, Nancy, was a gymnast and competed for Cal State Fullerton.

Up next

P No. 4 UCLA at No. 5 Utah

When • 8 p.m. Saturday

Where • Huntsman Center






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