Gymnast Taylor Ricci overcomes potentially devastating growth spurt

Senior gymnast Taylor Ricci practices on the beam

Max Braly, Multimedia Contributor

The average height on the Oregon State gymnastics team is 5-foot-3-inches. Senior Taylor Ricci is two inches taller than the average. Being a 5-foot-5-inch gymnast isn’t out of the question, three other ladies on the team join her at that mark. What makes Ricci’s current height extraordinary is that five of those inches were added on between her freshman and sophomore years.

Gymnastics is a sport of mastering physics. Every movement, flip, tumble and skill is carefully planned and executed based on the gymnast’s body. When Ricci’s body grew by nearly a half-foot, her calculations were no longer accurate.

“When you grow, especially that much, your center of mass changes and the length of your limbs. Everything is just different,” Ricci said.

Coming to Oregon State, Ricci had established herself as a high-level gymnast. She trained in her hometown of North Vancouver, British Columbia. In 2010, Ricci was asked to be a part of the Canadian Junior National Team. She represented Canada at the Rushmoor Rosebowl, a London-based gymnastics meet, where Ricci took first place honors.

Associate head coach Michael Chaplin is, in part, responsible for recruiting Ricci to Oregon State. Back at her home gym, Ricci trained with former Beaver gymnast Laura-Ann Chong. Chaplin has built a relationship with those who coached Ricci and her coaches told Chaplin of her great work ethic. He liked what he saw from a gymnastics point of view, but also noticed she had a good presence about her. Those traits coupled with the fact that Ricci is an excellent student made her a perfect fit for OSU.

The Oregon State coaching staff got a little more Ricci than they bargained for; five extra inches and it has been challenge to deal with them, according to Chaplin.

“Those things happen. Sometimes, physically, you change a little bit,” Chaplin said. “[Ricci] got taller. Your timing changes and your strength changes. As long as you’re dedicated, which she is, to learning to adapt to [your new body] you’ll be fine.”

Learning how to use a new body is hard. Learning how to do gymnastics in a new body is even harder.

“I honestly just worked my [expletive] off every day in the gym, every day in the weight room,” Ricci said. “Eventually sophomore year it got a little bit easier, but I would say by my junior year that’s finally when it clicked. I was now the 5’5” gymnast.”

She wasn’t alone through the process, her coaches and teammates were there in support the whole time. Through them, Ricci was able to have the confidence to conquer her growth spurt.

“She worked really really hard and that’s all you can ask at the end of the day,” Chaplin said. “If people come in here and work as hard as they can and make the most of whatever talents they have, then we’re happy with that. She is a great team player and we couldn’t be happier with her the four years she’s been here.”

Knowing Ricci, her outlook on the situation shouldn’t be a surprise.

“You look at the positive in everything. That growth spurt definitely made me relearn my gymnastics and relearn it in a cleaner, more technical way. Which I think has resulted in a benefit for my junior and senior year,” Ricci said.

All of Ricci’s teammates were willing supporters, but most of all her class helped her get past her new height.

“It’s been awesome to see her overcome [her growth],” Senior Kaytianna McMillan said. “It was really hard to watch her go through those freshman and sophomore years with all the changes to her body, but she handled it like a champ.”

McMillan and Ricci first met each other on their recruiting visits. They signed to Oregon State,  becoming roommates and inseparable friends.

“She’s my best friend, so I literally go to her for everything,” McMillan said. “I can tell her whatever I want and she doesn’t judge ever. She’ll help you through anything.”

For Ricci, ‘anything’ might one day include physician’s duties. After she graduates from OSU this year, she plans on going to medical school and going into sports medicine. She was inspired by the doctors who helped her through her own injuries.

Ricci’s medical school resume is looking pretty promising. On top of being named to the Pac-12 All-Academic First Team in both 2015 and 2016, she is also the Pac-12 Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) president. SAAC is a committee that focuses on the welfare and wellness of student athlete experience.

Moreover, this season, Ricci was honored to be named as team captain by her teammates and the team’s success is the only goal on her mind.

“She’s like a sturdy rock,” McMillan said. “She really holds everything together I think. She helps everyone through mental gymnastics and physical gymnastics. She’s incredible.”

It seems that this year’s gymnastics team has a bond like few others have ever had.

“You automatically have sisters,” Ricci said. “You have people that are so close, inside and outside of the sport. I think looking back, ten or twenty years down the road, I’m going to remember gymnastics, I’m going to remember the moves that I did and the meets that we had. But you’re going to remember your teammates so much more.”

So far this season, the Beavers have performed well enough to be ranked No. 10 in the most recent NCAA poll.

Floor is Ricci’s favorite event and where she can showcase her fan favorite “O-S-U” chant mid-routine. But most of all, the team as a whole takes precedence as her favorite part of gymnastics.

“Oregon State gymnastics has always had such a strong foundation, inside and outside the sports: being excellent students and excellent leaders in the community,” Ricci said. “But in gymnastics we’ve always just been right there.”

Looking up at the rafters in the Glady’s Valley Gymnastics Center, one can see the many banners representing Pac-10 and Pac-12 titles and regional championships. The goal for this year’s team is to win again, but also set the program up for success in future.

“You just want to leave this program a little bit better in some way then when you came here,” Ricci said. “That has been a goal and mission of mine to leave this program a little bit better.”

Ricci has already made an impact for the Beavers. Her story of perseverance will help inspire future gymnasts at Oregon State to continue pushing, according to Chaplin.

“The key that we will point to, looking at Taylor as one of those people that just works really hard, is you can overcome whatever obstacles that are in your way,” Chaplin said.

Was this article helpful?