True Gritt: Oft-injured Ute still contributing

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Utah gymnast Gritt Hofmann could only give a defeated smile as she held up her right hand, showing her swollen ring finger.

Another day, another injury.

The Utah senior broke the finger Saturday, during a medicine ball drill with teammate Gabi Onodi.

It was a bizarre accident, but at this point, Hofmann is wondering if she is simply destined to spend more time in the training room than actually training.

"I don't know what has happened," she said. "It's just one injury after another."

Hofmann is one of Utah's top gymnasts when she is healthy. Unfortunately for her, healthy days have been rare during her collegiate career. The Utes host Washington on Friday in the Huntsman Center.

A back injury ended Hofmann's freshman season shortly after it started, she dislocated her right shoulder her sophomore year which required surgery in the offseason to fix, then was slowed by right hip pain in her junior year.

This season, her left hip gave her some trouble early, then in the second meet, her left wrist started hurting. A cortisone injection actually made the problem worse, and she sat out the meet at Nebraska.

Since then, she has only competed on floor because the balance beam and vault cause a sharp pain in the area. The wrist has been improving, just in time for the latest injury.

"It's very frustrating," Hofmann said. "All I want to do is train and compete, but this holds me back. This is my last year, and I want to do everything I can; I won't get another chance."

Hofmann, a member of Germany's national team from 1994-2001, was never known as injury-prone during her elite days, but all those years of pounding and training are taking their toll. Like many gymnasts nearing the end of their careers, worn-out joints, stress fractures and other overuse injuries are part of day-to-day living.

"Sometimes you have athletes who are are more delicate than others, and hers [body] does seem to break down more quickly," Utah coach Greg Marsden said. "We have to pay close attention to it and make sure she isn't overtraining. If she is feeling run down, we want her to say something, so we can adjust her workouts."

Before her senior year started, Hofmann hoped she could break into the all-around lineup. She is one of Utah's best on floor, and is solid on the vault and balance beam. She tried training on the uneven bars, but her repaired shoulder let her know quickly it wasn't up to the strain the bars put on it.

Now, with only three meets left in the regular season, Hofmann is disappointed at how limiting the injuries have been.

"I'm trying to stay as positive as I can," she said. "I still love gymnastics. I'm not ready to be done."

Hofmann is best known for her floor routines. Last year, she tied for the NCAA regional floor title with a 9.9 and has anchored Utah's floor lineup this year. She matched her career best with a 9.975 last week.

"We don't put her in last because she is a nice girl - she has proven she deserves to go last," Marsden said. "She is a beautiful gymnast in the way she shows off routines. You can teach skills, but it is more difficult to teach gymnasts how to do them with a certain quality. That is why there are dancers, and why there are prima donnas."

Initially surprised she was picked to go last, Hofmann sees it as an honor now.

"I like how it feels, it's like you get to end the meet," she said.