Gymnastic's Elise Ray Inducted in Athletics Hall of Fame
Washington assistant gymnastics coach Elise Ray has recently been inducted into Howard County Women's Athletic Hall of Fame.
Here is a great read about Ray's induction, written by Andrew Conrad of the Howard County Times (Columbia, Md.):
No one would ever mistake Columbia for a hotbed of world class gymnastics, but thanks to 2000 Wilde Lake High School graduate Elise Ray, Columbia can always proudly call itself the town that produced a world class gymnast.
"I wasn't a high school athlete (because gymnastics was not a varsity sport when Ray was at Wilde Lake) but it didn't make a difference to them," said Ray, who was born in Florida but moved to Columbia at a young age. "(The community) was just so supportive. Going to public school was a huge priority for me and my family, and they worked with me."
Whether it meant allowing her to miss classes to commute to and from her training facility in Gaithersburg, showing flexibility with making up work, or just sharing congratulatory words upon her return from a successful international competition, Ray is grateful for the community support she received in Columbia, and still counts that as an integral part of the realization of her Olympic dream.
As a 2000 Olympian in Sydney, Ray remains a fan favorite and one of the most memorable members of the U.S. team that was awarded team bronze medals in 2010 when it was discovered that the Chinese team had falsified the age of one of its competitors at the Sydney Games.
Unfortunately for Ray, that was not the only scandal that stained the 2000 Summer Games.
After officials inexplicably set the vault two inches low, Ray -- along with many other gymnasts -- fell twice off of the improperly set apparatus.
The vault was eventually corrected, and Ray stuck her landing en route to a 13th place finish in the all-around, best of any American.
"I didn't know what was wrong," Ray told the New York Times in 2000. "It looked low to me, but I thought it was my nerves. Definitely falling on your first event shoots your confidence way down. That was the toughest part, just to keep going."
A stable coaching staff might have eased its gymnasts through the stormy situation, but...
U.S. team coordinator Bela Karolyi earned a reputation during the 2000 Games as an overbearing drill sergeant, and he feuded openly with gymnasts and fellow U.S. coaches alike.
But gymnasts are trained to persist through adversity with a bright smile on their face, and that's exactly what Ray did.
After Sydney, Ray found a return to normalcy at the University of Michigan, where she studied English and thrived as a 14-time NCAA All-American and three-time NCAA national champion, becoming the most decorated female gymnast in the history of the school.
After graduating in 2005, Ray eventually took a job performing with the Cirque du Soleil in Las Vegas. After several years living in Las Vegas, she came back to Maryland to be closer to her family (parents Ellen and Bill and brother Taylor) and coached at the Carroll Gymnastics Center in Hampstead until recently.
The fall of 2011 was a memorable time for Ray, who was inducted into the USA Gymnastics Hall of Fame in late August and was hired as an assistant coach at the University of Washington in late September.
Washington head coach Joanne Bowers coached Ray at Michigan.
"She has just been fantastic which doesn't surprise me in the least, with the dedication and focus she had when she was at Michigan," Bowers said. "She has been through so many different things at the highest level so the girls gave her their undivided attention right away ... I'm just thrilled that she's here and that I'm getting to work with her."
Ray now lives in Seattle and continues to coach younger gymnasts at summer camps.
While she has done some work as a color commentator for the Big 10 Network and has expressed interest in becoming a writer, Ray clearly has found her calling in coaching.
"I'd been thinking about coaching in college and the timing couldn't have been more perfect," said Ray, who helped lead Washington to an upset of No. 1 UCLA on Jan. 27. "It's very, very different. I've learned a lot technically already. (College gymnasts) very much want to keep learning but they know their bodies and they know themselves."
And while the Olympic Games in Sydney was the tumultuous culmination of a dream realized, Ray looks at winning the National Championship in St. Louis, which qualified her for the Olympic team, as the pinnacle of her athletic career.
"I had done a ton of mental preparation. I was going to make (the Olympic) team and nothing was going to stand in my way," said Ray, who compared the feeling to how Michael Jordan must have felt on his best nights. "Everything just aligned and everything felt effortless. I can say that I never had that feeling up until then and I've never had it since."
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