NORMAN — Megan Ferguson walked into Sam Viersen Gymnastic Center 45 minutes before practice began and grabbed a heating pad. She placed it on a blue mat and laid down, allowing the pad to heat her lower back.
She's been an elite gymnast for more than a decade and, at age 22, the five-time All-American at Oklahoma feels the effects of the sport she's given much to excel at performing.
Ferguson's right in taking precautions before the No. 3-seeded Sooners seek their first national championship beginning at 11 a.m. Friday at Gwinnett Center in Duluth, Ga.
“Gymnastics is a very difficult sport,” Ferguson said. “It's very hard on your body, and it's a lot of pounding day-in, day-out.”
Oklahoma began the season with 14 athletes. By the first week of April, four had sustained a substantial injury and one team member, Natasha Kelley, decided to retire in January after tearing her right Achilles tendon last November.
But with each injury, the Sooners have grown closer, stronger.
“In my four years of college gymnastics, I've never seen so much — so many injuries, so many difficulties,” Ferguson said. “But it's a huge testament to our team and our coaches who have continued to train our back-up girls and how they've been able to step in seamlessly and fill those positions.”
The proof came in the Big 12 championship, when two-time All-American Kayla Nowak was forced to miss the competition after suffering a hand injury in practice, three days before the event. Nowak wasn't worried about whether her team would perform when it heard the news.
“We could have backed out a long time ago, when Natasha went out or when Rebecca (Clark) went out and then with me before Big 12,” Nowak said. “But the team picked each other up. We all became very cohesive. As each injury has happened, we've become closer and closer and tougher and tougher.”