Once a gymnast, now a coach and spectator

Marie Welsh is adjusting to life on the sidelines.

There’s going to be a gymnastics meet tomorrow, and Marie Welsh won’t be a part of it.

The senior co-captain, who is one of two gymnasts – two-time state champ Brooke Nall is the other – that Bainbridge gymnastics head coach Cindy Guy said is the best she’s ever seen in her 29 years at BHS, will be on the sidelines.

Instead, she’ll be cheering her friends on as the Spartans host the Metro League championship meet in the gymnastics room and the Commodore Gym at 6 p.m.

The team is shooting for their seventh Metro League title in the eight years they’ve been in the league.

Welsh, who has been out since May with a knee injury, won the District 2 and 3A state all-around title last year and would have been the odds on favorite to repeat this year.

Instead, she’s on the sidelines for not only this year, but for the forseeable future.

Welsh has been involved with gymnastics ever since her mom Vanessa signed her up for classes through the Parks and Recreation district when she was six years old.

“My brother did gymnastics before me,” she said. “A week after classes they moved me up a level with the club kids.”

Welsh competed with the club team on Bainbridge for a year, then went to Cascade Elite Gymnastics in Mountlake Terrace.

She then skipped a few levels and achieved a higher level for every year she got older, culminating in reaching Level 10 – the level below what an Olympic caliber gymnast is considered – when she was 10.

It all culminated with a national title on the floor exercise.

“I was the youngest person in the competition,” Welsh said. “No one had seen anyone who progressed that quick.

“But I was so young at the time I didn’t realize (the magnitude of) it,” she continued. “I was doing skills (at 10) that high school kids were doing.

She kept with the sport through eighth grade, then left, partly for part-time homeschooling in Seattle, partly because she began growing too fast (the average height for an elite gymnast is 4-11, while Welsh would grow to her current height of 5-7.)

When she made it to BHS, she decided to go out for just the school gymnastic team (many kids split between their high school team and their club team) and also made the cheer squad for a few years.

“I had taken a break from gymnastics and (former assistant gymnastics coach and cheer coach) Lorry (Gilbreath) knew me and she said that I should get back into it. It’s not as intense and you just work on your skills and compete.”

She competed with the best in the state from the moment she set foot in the gym, taking third in the all-around at state as a freshman in 2005.

She also almost denied Brooke Nall (who took her under her wing and was her mentor) her second straight all-around title as she was first for most of the event, but lost out when she fell during her beam routine.

“I didn’t really look at the people around me, I just stayed focused on myself,” Welsh said of competing that first year. “I didn’t worry about living up to the expectations.”

As a sophomore, she took third again when one misstep on the beam cost her the all-around title.

She did come back the next day to earn her first individual state title when she split with Kennedy’s Anissa Madrid on the uneven bars.

Last year was the breakout year for Welsh.

She was undefeated in the all-around during the regular season, then took home four titles at the district meet, including the all-around.

Welsh put it all together at the state meet, winning her first all-around title and taking home two individual titles in the bars and the vault.

She also broke the individual records held by Nall including the all-around score and was the first gymnast since Nall to win an all-around title and two individual titles.

With the season over, Welsh decided to get back into the club scene to help her earn a college scholarship.

She reestablished herself as a Level 10 gymnast but during a practice two weeks before nationals, she made what was her last floor pass as a competitive gymnast.

“I landed but my body kept twisting,” she said. “My knee kind of dislocated and I fell to the ground.

“All my coaches ran over and it was really swollen, so I went to the hospital and they told me it’s most likely not torn. They didn’t think anything was wrong from what they could tell.”

But a week later she couldn’t move her knee, and went in for an MRI that showed she had torn her ACL and her meniscus.

“I remember I went to the bathroom and my parents were like ‘So what if you did tear your knee?’ and I said ‘Oh, I don’t know, it’s probably not (torn) and they said ‘But what if you did?’” she said with a laugh.

“The doctor said... you pretty much destroyed it and I said OK,” Welsh continued. “It happens. You can’t dwell on it now.

Though she hasn’t competed, Welsh stays involved with the team as a volunteer coach and works as a judge as well.

She also plans on still attending college (the UW is one of several schools she’s applied to) but Welsh said she does wonder sometimes about that last pass.

“I finally made the decision to earn a college scholarship and I was really working hard,” she said. “If I would have told (my coach) I was too tired it would have been different, but I can’t dwell on that.

“I think that everything happens for a reason. There’s better opportunities that will come along.”

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