Pushing Past Limitations

  • By Shannon McNamara
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  • July 23, 2011 11:30 AM
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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Thomas Edison left an indelible print on the great tapestry that is American history. Credited with such lasting inventions as the electric light bulb and the motion picture camera, Edison also had a way with words, especially those that summarized hard work, saying “Opportunity is missed by most because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” He also is famously quoted for saying “There is no substitute for hard work.”

Surely unbeknownst to the great scientist at the time, Edison’s words succinctly describe sophomore gymnast Bethany Yurko’s work ethic. Brimming with a quiet determination, the untested Mountaineer is a walking affirmation that hard work, when paired with dedication and a willingness to conquer any and all obstacles, can lead to endless opportunities.

Six weeks removed from her second season with the West Virginia University gymnastics team, Yurko, an invited walk-on from Cumberland, Md., acknowledges that her skill level was not up to par with some of her teammates when she first arrived at Cary Gym – she just doesn’t use it as an excuse.

“I came into the season knowing that I was not going to compete and that I had a lot to learn,” Yurko recalled. “I worked hard, and I tried to get the skills I needed for routines. It was a big learning season for me, and I was fine with that.”

A 10-year gymnast at East-West Stars, Yurko was determined to take advantage of the equipment and space afforded to her as a Mountaineer student-athlete. Though she was comfortably living in a campus dorm with her teammates, one may have assumed that she also had a cot at the practice facility, for the gym became like a second home for the design studies major. Determined to not only learn new skills, but also successfully incorporate them into routines, Yurko became fast friends with the Cary Gym foam pits. ‘Repetition’ became her middle name.

“I kept thinking ‘wow’ (last year). I couldn’t believe some of the skills I was working with,” she said. “At the same time, everything was not coming along fast enough for me. I was working on the skills, but I felt like my achievements were coming along too slow. I felt like I was spending too much time in the pits and was not transitioning to the mats quick enough.”

That small frustration did not get the best of Yurko.

“Spending time in the pits was OK with me though, because I enjoy doing that,” she laughed.

Extra hours in the pits has proven to be time well spent. According to new Mountaineer coach Jason Butts, Yurko is making a steady push toward two potential lineup spots.

“Bethany exemplifies what it’s like to come in to a new environment and have hard work pay off,” Butts said. “She’s learned so much since she got here a year ago, and I think she’s going to end up competing for us next season. She may even compete more than one event – she has learned a ton of new skills.”

Of the new skills she’s acquired, Yurko says one of her favorites is her Tkatchev on bars, the lineup she is most likely to impact next season.

“Doing my Tkatchev now is really cool,” she said. “It took me awhile to do it by myself. I still can’t believe I’m practicing it.”

Yurko also is making strides with her vault, utilizing skills she was taught at the last WVU Gymnastics Camp she attended prior to college. Having attended at least six camps – she says that they all run together – the coaching staff even renamed an award after her. The Bethany Yurko Award is now given to the camper with the longest-standing attendance record.

“That’s what so neat about Bethany – she came to our camps for so many years, and now she’s a part of our team,” Butts explained. “What’s funny is that the uneven bars has always been her strongest event, but she never let on to that during camp. She learned her vault in two days, which was incredible. I never saw a gymnast do that before.”

Though her camp days have passed, Yurko is still collecting awards. Her progress and elevated skill level so impressed her teammates last season that they honored her with the Sally Medrick Award, given annually to the most improved gymnast.

“Bethany never has a bad day; if she does, she doesn’t let it show on her face,” said Butts. “Even if things aren’t going her way, she still smiles. She puts in more turns and repetitions than anyone else in the gym, and that motivates her teammates to work harder, too. She’s always there for her team, and she’s always positive.”

Yurko knows that her time is near and that the potential to compete collegiately is within her grasp. Yet, in keeping with her humbled attitude, she is in no rush and appreciates that steady, hard work will eventually lead her to a lineup spot.

“I want to have a bar routine and a vault,” she says of her 2012 goals. “I don’t necessarily need to be competing them, but I want to have both of those routines down and be able to work on them. I want to transition away from the pits and work on the apparatuses. It’s all small steps right now, but I know I’m getting there.”

Small steps, sure, but little doubt remains that Yurko’s future will soon burn just as bright as Mr. Edison’s brilliant bulbs.