Taylor Rakus thought her time on the uneven bars was over when she graduated from Downingtown East High School four years ago.
Her four years at Temple, though, have proved her wrong.
Rakus, a senior, had to sit out her freshman season in 2012 while recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament, though she earned a spot on the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference All-Academic team.
Entering her first year of competition with the Owls in 2013, Rakus was listed as an all-around, but performed best on the balance beam. The 5-foot-6 gymnast posted a season-high 9.75 on the beam in a dual meet against Ursinus, and went on to qualify for the 2013 NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championships on the beam.
Yet another roadblock would come in 2014.
As a junior, Rakus suffered a broken talus and sprained many ankle ligaments. While the rehabilitation this time around wasn’t as lengthy, she and coach Aaron Murphy agreed that it would be best for her to compete in two events moving forward – the beam and uneven bars.
Using Rakus on the balance beam made sense considering her past success in the event. But for someone who favored the vault and floor exercise – areas that require strength – the choice of the bars came as a surprise.
“Coming in from high school, I thought I would never touch bars another day in my life,” Rakus said. “I saw people went to college and they only did two or three events, and not all four. But because of my [injuries], I was able to spend a lot more time on bars because they were impact-free.”
Murphy felt Rukas needed a change of pace.
“I think it was pretty much mutual between the two of us,” Murphy said, addressing the decision to switch Rakus’ events after her injury last year. “She was coming into that year already thinking, ‘Hey, if I can devote my time to beam and bars I’m going to be a better gymnast than if I have to devote time to all four events.’”
Senior all-around Alexis Arena, Rakus’ roommate, has witnessed the Downingtown native battle back. Arena has been able to compete in each of the last three seasons, and broke into Temple’s lineup in all four events by her sophomore year.
What impressed Arena the most about Rakus through the course of their time together, she said, was her optimism.
“She always came into the gym positive,” Arena said. “She always had a good attitude even though she was hurt.”
If things aren’t going well on a certain day, Arena said, Rakus’ efforts to bounce back after both injuries are an inspiration.
“If I’m having a bad day I’ll definitely look back at her and say, ‘She could do it, I can do it, everyone else here can do it,’” Arena said.
Greg Frank can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @g_frank6