College Gymnastics: Hofmann finds time is her ally
She's an All-American on the floor. She flips and twists on the balance beam so confidently she must be oblivious to its 4-inch width. She throws a roundoff half on the horse, and a front pike off the vault as effortlessly as you enjoy your cereal in the morning.
Gritt Hofmann, Utah's senior who was granted an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA for medical hardship, is believed to be the oldest gymnast to ever compete at the collegiate level.
"Grandma Gritty," the 25-year-old calls herself with a twisted grin, knowing that description fits her only in the way it rhymes with her name.
She isn't just getting through her fifth year as some insignificant contributor on one of the nation's top teams. Instead, she's treating her extra season with newfound enthusiasm and determination, and nailing some of the team's best scores in the process.
"I'm at a loss for words," Utah coach Greg Marsden said. "She has, at 25 years old, brought a new level of gymnastics and commitment to the sport. She is on a different level than she used to be."
With the exception of one goof, the German has scored 9.7 or higher in all of her performances this year. The one mistake she made, a botched floor pass in Utah's home opener, was called a fluke by Marsden. Hofmann tried to change what she was going to do midway through the routine and couldn't pull it off.
"It's a little bit sad she doesn't go all-around, because she doesn't get the respect she deserves," Marsden said. "But right now, if you look at what she has done, she is my best competitor."
Hofmann doesn't compete on the uneven bars because of an old shoulder injury. It's a reminder that it's surprising she was able to get through four years of competition, much less an extra season.
Her earlier years were marred by injuries to her lower back, wrist and shoulder. Before college, she suffered a mysterious back ailment similar to the one that made teammate Rachel Tidd retire this season.
Hofmann stopped doing gymnastics for a year and was checked into a rehab hospital in Berlin for daily treatments. Finally, a doctor in Munich gave her some injections in her back that relieved the pain.
"We were thinking it would never get better," she said.
Another back injury cut her freshman season short after just one meet, the reason the NCAA was willing to extend her eligibility.
Hip and back injuries plagued her junior year, and last season, she competed in several meets with a broken finger and sore wrist.
Still, she was a solid contributor, especially on the floor, where she placed 10th at the 2005 NCAA Championships.
Before he petitioned the NCAA for the fifth year, Marsden discussed the possibility with Hofmann. She was for it, although it meant juggling her class schedule and delaying her wedding for a year.
"If I could compete for two more years, I would," Hofmann said.
Shortly after the 2005 season ended, Hofmann had surgery on her right wrist to repair the cartilage causing her pain.
"I don't even know what they did," she said. "I just told them to fix it."
They did, and Hofmann fixed herself in the process. Afraid the injury was going to set her back, Hofmann did some extra conditioning work, often working out late at night when she was finished with her internship duties in interior design.
"It was hard, doing it when I should be at home," she said. "But I was scared I'd be way behind."
The extra work has put her in the middle of her best season yet. It couldn't have happened in a better year, either, with the Utes lacking depth in several events.
"She used to be just a contributor on floor, and occasionally help on beam or vault," Marsden said. "Now she's as strong on those events as floor. I had no idea the degree she'd come back. She is in the best shape of her life."
Hofmann is stronger mentally, too, exhibiting more leadership than in the past.
"I've always thought highly of Gritt," sophomore Jessica Duke said. "But she is stronger than she's ever been in the gym and as a leader. She's taken an extra step."
SUU at Utah
FRIDAY, 7 p.m.