Since she was two-years-old, BYU senior Shannon Evans has been competing in gymnastics.
She became one of the top college gymnasts in the country but she knew heading into the 2020 season that her career was drawing to a close. Unforeseen circumstances, however, combined to make things exponentially more challenging.
“I can’t really wrap my mind around my emotions right now with everything happening,” Evans said in a phone interview Tuesday. “It’s not just a physical strain. It’s been emotionally straining. Learning how to be on the sidelines, cheering my team on has been a process. But it’s also been a good learning experience seeing that side of things too.”
The initial setback for Evans came in November when she had a fall on the beam during training.
“Splitting the beam is not uncommon,” Evans said. “In gymnastics, you do it often. It’s kind of just one of those things where it’s not fun but it’s the nature of the sport. I never thought that splitting the beam was going to be something that pulled me out for so long. I mean, it hurt but I figured my body would heal from it and it just didn’t. It was debilitating. Even if I tried to fight through the pain, it was like my body would give out before even beginning.”
It was a slow process but eventually her body started healing from that injury. Other injuries started cropping up, however, extending the recovery time for Evans.
She said she tried to turn her attention to her teammates.
“You kind of have to do what you can for yourself, and then realize that there’s a bigger picture and the bigger picture is the team’s success,” Evans said. “It helped for me to focus my energy into my teammates’ success. It helped for me to turn their attention to them.”
She said that seeing so many of the Cougar gymnasts have great performances helped her cope with her health challenges.
“They stepped up their game to whole different level,” Evans said. “I really got to see individuals come in and do what needed to be done. That was really exciting for me to see and it was relaxing to knowing that when I’m done the program will be successful because of the foundation the coaches have laid. The up-and-coming girls are very talented and are committed to helping BYU climb in the rankings”
That was the status throughout the season but on March 9 Evans said she started training and noticed a big difference.
“I said a little prayer that was something like, ‘Heavenly Father, if my body can do this, please let it but if not, like that’s OK,” Evans said. “It helped me to find peace with whatever I could do. I went to the gym and though there was pain, everything felt like it was falling in place.”
That amped up her anticipation for Senior Night, which was scheduled for March 14, and for the upcoming opportunities at the conference and regional meets.
“I felt like I would be able to find the closure that I needed and be able to give a proper goodbye to the sport that I’ve been doing since I was two years old,” Evans said.
That excitement turned into disappointment as the week progressed and she had to emotionally deal with blow after blow as changes were announced to combat the spread of COVID-19.
First it was announced that no spectators would be allowed, then the home meet was canceled and then the entire season was called off.
“I didn’t know what to do or think,” Evans said. “There were lots of tears and (BYU senior gymnast Briana Pearson) and I were talking the whole time like, we don’t really know how to cope with this. This is something that’s never really happened before and we really needed that meet. It was just like a season that turned from me maybe having three and possibly four more meets left — and then I was done.”
She said what might be her final performance wasn’t her best memory.
“My last time to ever do gymnastics in front of the crowd competing was at Utah State during a bar routine that, frankly, didn’t score very well,” Evans said. “That was really disheartening. It was really, really hard. That day was not at the top of my list of days to be alive.”
She said the logic of what happened is something she understands — but that doesn’t help with the sadness and disappointment.
“I know it’s hard to think like that because you know if there’s a bigger cause it’s better for the public,” Evans said. “It’s what we need for safety. I understand all that but it doesn’t make it any easier for me or Briana, who their whole life just kind of ended. It’s not like gymnastics is our whole life but we’ve dedicated most of our lives to this sport. We wanted those moments of doing things for the last time and we didn’t get them.”
It was also difficult for her to see the difference in reactions between the seniors and the rest of the BYU team.
“It’s hard because we’re on different pages today,” Evans said. “A season of theirs ended a couple meets early and that was hard. We did win conference by default because we were the highest ranked team in the conference, but like who wants to win by default? But I was on the phone when that was announced and the entire team was cheering. I was just like, why are they cheering? This is so hard for me to take in because I’m in a lot of pain. It dawned on me that it’s not the same for them.”
She does have a sliver of hope because the NCAA announced that seniors competing in spring competitions would get another year of eligibility. She hopes that might be extended to seniors like her in winter sports who didn’t get to complete their final seasons.
“I just want a chance to get that closure,” Evans said. “I’ve never been a quitter or a settler. I don’t quit and I don’t settle, so it would be great to get this year back.”
She doesn’t know if that will happen, however. She said it has been really helpful to have a husband, BYU senior diver Ryan Evans, who is understanding about what she is going through.
“He actually got to finish his sport,” Shannon Evans said. “He qualified for zones and then got to compete on both boards and platform for his last time, and the final on platform — which was amazing — so he got to compete one more time there. He did get that peace of mind knowing each dive he was doing was his last. But he said that for me it wasn’t my senior season. That was nothing like what my senior season was supposed to be like. He’s been really supportive and helping me just keep my head up and keep some hope in my heart.”
But while that remains unknown, Shannon and Ryan Evans still have plans for the future. She is looking at getting a nursing degree while he finishes up his classes and then goes to chiropractic school in Texas.
In her heart, however, she hopes to have more gymnastics in her life.
“I want to have that nursing degree if it’s needed but I want to be a college gymnastics coach,” Evans said. “That’s kind of the big, long-term goal. Right now we’re kind of in a stalemate. Hopefully we’ll hear something soon so we can figure things out.”