Neal beats the odds, overcomes injuries to become team leader


Even after doctors told her that her gymnastics career was over, senior Taira Neal continued on and now is captain of the MSU gymnastics team.

The senior has had four elbow surgeries, a torn Achilles tendon, currently has a torn labrum in her shoulder and a back that has given her a lot of trouble.

“I’ve always dealt with injuries since my junior year in high school, so it’s a determination thing to always work through it and always come back,” Neal said. “I’ve always had the attitude that I never want to give up.”

Justin Wan / Justin Wan

Before coming to MSU, Neal was the Illinois state champion on vault, floor, bars and all-around in 2008.

Head coach Kathie Klages said they have to be cautious with her in training, and Neal lets them know how she’s feeling on a daily basis.

“It’s difficult,” Klages said. “She’s dealing with something every single day that she’s in this gym training. That shows you the determination and a desire that she has to lead this program.”

With eight freshmen and four sophomores, Neal is the only senior on this year’s squad.

Klages said Neal is the first captain the team has had in about seven years.

“(In the past) we just felt like there was the need for each athlete to feel like they had a responsibility and a right to speak up and talk,” Klages said. “With such a young class, we really felt we needed a direction, a leader.”

Vault is her best discipline, and Neal has received a score of 9.8 or above in two of her three competitions this season.

In the mind of freshman Kate Filosi, Neal is definitely the right person to lead their team.

“She’s such a great captain, and she motivates me everyday,” Filosi said. “I learn more and more things from her every day. Especially on bars because if she sees me do one thing wrong, she’ll tell me, and that will really help me for my next turn to be more successful.”

With all the injuries Neal has suffered, Filosi said Neal pushes her overcome her own pain.

“We’re both in the bar lineup right now, so I stand next to her and I’m like ‘Oh my God, my back hurts so bad,’ then I look at her and she’s all taped up and she’s like ‘My back hurts everyday of my life,’” Filosi said.

Neal was named second-team All-Big Ten a season ago, and said her main goal is to surpass that.

“I really want to make first team All-Big Ten,” Neal said. “I really want to improve as a team because I think we’re better than we were put in the beginning (rankings).”

Through the years of performing with injuries, Neal has never given up.

As her MSU career draws to a close, she’s proud that she has been able to push through everything that has been thrown at her.

“I know I’m hurt a lot, but it’s never to the point where I feel like I need to stop,” she said. “I know a lot of gymnasts would give up if they had four elbow surgeries. It is kind of a weird and amazing thing.”

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