Washougal gymnast dazzles after 3-year absence

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Washougal senior gymnast Shaela Ausmus qualified for the 1A/2A/3A state meet after a three-year absence from gymnastics because of back problems. (Wayne Havrelly/Post-Record)

It wasn’t long after Shaela Ausmus took her first steps as an infant that she launched into her gymnastics career.

At the age of 3, Ausmus started training at Naydenov Gymnastics in Vancouver. By the time she was in sixth grade, she was competing in Level 10, the top classification of the USA Gymnastics Junior Olympics Program. She competed at events all over the United States for more than three years.

Shortly after starting her freshman year at Washougal High School, however, Ausmus started to feel a sharp pain in her spine.

“I felt pain all the time and got to the point where I couldn’t do what I wanted to do,” Ausmus said.

Doctors diagnosed her with scoliosis, a sideways curvature of the spine. After 12 years of competing in gymnastics, she thought her career was over. During the next three years she didn’t compete and only occasionally trained at Naydenov, hoping that someday her body would allow her to return to the sport she loves.

That someday came during her senior year. Ausmus joined WHS’ gymnastics team and had immediate success — she was named as the gymnast of the year in the 2A Greater St. Helens League, won the all-around title at 2A District 4 tournament and earned a trip to the 1A/2A/3A state meet, which was held in Bellevue on Feb. 20-22.

Ausmus finished 17th in the all-around competition on Friday. During Saturday’s event finals, she placed 13th in the bars event, tied for 16th in the beam event, tied for 18th place in the floor event and finished 15th in the vault event.

After falling on her last vault of the competition, tears welled in Ausmus’ eyes because she knew she wouldn’t qualify for a medal and that her gymnastics career was likely at an end. But like a seasoned professional, she quickly found her composure and talked about how thankful she is for her teammates and coaches.

“It’s a good way to end it,” said Ausmus, who plans to study medicine in college. “I got to meet new friends in Camas and have grown closer to the Washougal team and the coaches, and I will be excited to come back next year and see how the Panthers are doing.”

With the support of her Washougal teammate and friend Paris Krecklow in the stands, Ausmus put together a solid routine on the bars.

“I had a rough time during warmups, but pulled it out during the routine and got a 9, so I feel really good about that,” Ausumus said.

She couldn’t make her landing in the vault, which is typically her favorite exercise. She said her back got sore and kept her from getting her usual lift.

Trish Hoppa, an assistant coach for the Camas and Washougal gymnastics teams, said that Ausmus’ return to gymnastics after a three-year absence has inspired both squads.

“We had a lot of girls on our Camas team who looked up to her and really admire her ability to come back and be so strong,” Hoppa said.

Washougal junior Katie Stevens qualified for the state tournament for a second straight year, but was not able to compete because of illness.

“The night before state I was supposed to stay at her house, but she called and said, ‘I’ve been throwing up and I’m not going to make it,'” Ausmus said. “I sure wish she was here because she is awesome to compete with.”