A strong love of gymnastics helped Kyndal Robarts reach the elite level of the sport as she dedicated countless hours in the gym honing her skills.
But it wasn't until gymnastics was taken away that Robarts truly learned to appreciate it.
A two-time All-American and Utah's MVP in 2010, Robarts is back with the Utes for the 2012 season after the NCAA granted her an additional year of eligibility since she missed all but two meets in 2011 due to a knee injury.
The chance to re-live her senior year, plus a season spent on the sidelines watching others participate in the sport she loves, has made Robarts a changed woman.
Now, she is more determined than ever to help the fifth-ranked Utes have a successful season. She gets her first shot at it Sunday, when Utah opens the season at top-ranked UCLA.
"This year is definitely different than other years for me," she said. "I'm more excited for it and I am appreciating everything more. I learned that all the opportunities we have, so much can go wrong that being healthy isn't always going to happen."
Adding to Robarts' appreciation for gymnastics is that she is paying her own way. By the time she decided to return to the team and applied for another year with the NCAA, the Utes already had reached their allotment of scholarships.
The situation probably makes her the most qualified walk-on in the nation.
"In the past, she has always had great spirit and been a good team leader and been competitive out on the floor," coach Greg Marsden said. "But there is definitely something different about her, everything seems more meaningful."
The good news for the Utes is Robarts isn't content to just kick back and enjoy her year while the highly touted young 'uns carry the team. If anything, she has worked harder than ever.
Despite Utah's deep lineup, Robarts has earned a spot in every event Sunday except for the uneven bars, an event in which she has improved even if she isn't in the lineup just yet.
Now she is eager to prove she is better than ever.
"I wanted to come back and get one more shot and end my career the way I wanted to," Robarts said. "I didn't know if I would regret coming back or not when I made the decision, and I'm glad I did. It was definitely the right decision. Watching everybody every day have fun while I couldn't wasn't fun. I wanted one more chance."
The hardest part for her wasn't recovering from the injury itself, but mentally trusting her knee. Robarts tore her ACL during vault warm-ups at Nebraska.
"I was always confident on my vault landings, and that definitely took some of my confidence away," she admitted. "I definitely had some fear on vault and landings on floor, but I've been working through them."
Robarts said she doesn't have any expectations for 2012, other than to help the team as much as possible and enjoy the year.
Despite the depth that is supposed to make the Utes stronger than they've been in recent seasons, Marsden believes Robarts will be a big asset on the floor and in the locker room.
"We've got 11 freshmen and sophomores on the team, so our three seniors are going to be key to how successful we are," he said. "We are fortunate they are all good, stable, consistent competitors so they have to provide that leadership, and Kyndal is going to be crucial with that."
Apparently her influence already is rubbing off. Fellow senior Stephanie McAllister said Robarts' new dedication hasn't gone unnoticed.
"She hated not being a part of the team last year, and you can see that it has sparked a fire in her," McAllister said. "We definitely missed her, and having her back is making us that much stronger because she is such a strong competitor."
San Marcos, Texas, Sr.
Career highlights • Two-time first-team All-American ...10th on the vault at the 2008 NCAAs ... Fifth on the balance beam at the 2010 NCAAs ... 2010 NCAA regional runner-up in the all-around and on the balance beam ... 15 career victories ... Has hit 115-of-121 routines.
Utah at UCLA
P Sunday, 3 p.m.