For Michigan's Zurales, hard work the right prescription
Choosing a career can be difficult, but sometimes inspiration hits us over the head.
Or it breaks our foot, dislocates our shoulder and forces us into shoulder surgery and two hip surgeries.
Katie Zurales has seen plenty doctors in her young life. Not that it's a surprise since serious injuries come with the territory for elite gymnasts.
But on the plus side, Zurales, a graduate of Wheaton Warrenville South and a senior on the University of Michigan gymnastics team, discovered early in the game what she wants to do with her life.
"When I was in high school, I was injured a lot," said Zurales, who worked out at the prestigious Phenom Gymnastics club in Oswego. "I actually went into one of my hip surgeries with a cast on my foot for the broken foot.
"I learned a lot about medicine and how the body works with all that time spent in hospitals and doctors' offices. It was really intriguing to me. Everything I saw made me want to become a doctor."
Zurales is taking pre-med classes at Michigan, compiling a 3.7 grade-point average and volunteering at a local hospital, all while keeping pace with the best gymnasts in the nation.
A three-time NCAA all-American, Zurales has helped Michigan get off to a red-hot start this season. The Wolverines were the No. 1-ranked team in the country last week and are now at No. 3. For the first month of the season, they haven't been ranked lower than No. 3.
"Being ranked No. 1 last week was huge for us," said Zurales, whose best events are balance beam and uneven bars. "That's never been done before in Michigan gymnastics history. It's awesome for our team to start the season that strong.
"It motivates you to keep working hard in practice, and it's a real honor to represent Michigan in that way."
Zurales represented herself well over the summer when she did volunteer medical work in poor communities throughout Peru. An avid traveler, she can see herself working all over the world once she completes medical school.
"We opened up an HIV clinic in Peru and I worked at a public hospital where you are on your feet all day because there is so much to do," Zurales said. "It makes you feel good to be able to help, and it also makes you really appreciate what we have here."
Zurales says her body appreciated the time she took off from gymnastics while she was in Peru. She did cardio work, but nothing related to gymnastics.
"I visualized my routines and sometimes I even walked through them, but that was it," Zurales said. "It was a really good thing for me to rest my body. When you hit 20, you're an older gymnast. Your body can't take the pounding like it did when you were at your prime at 15 or 16.
"College gymnasts learn to compete smarter. This year for me, it's all about staying healthy and being confident."
It's all about cherishing each moment, too.
Zurales is painfully aware that she's on borrowed time with the sport she's dedicated countless hours to since she and her middle school friends joined a gym together.
Her senior season is going by too fast.
"All of us who started together in middle school wound up going to college on full rides," Zurales said. "We put in so much work back in high school. To be able to compete at a place like Michigan has been a dream come true for me.
"It's hard knowing that this is it for me. I'm going to miss all the fun days in the gym."
Pausing, Zurales laughed, "I'm not going to miss the tough days, though. There are a lot of those. Sometimes, you get to the point where you hope you'll just be able to walk when you're older."
If that's a problem, Zurales might know a good doctor she can see.
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