By JOHN JAMES MARSHALL, Journal Sports
Taylor Ann Wilson had decided to call it a career. Though she had been hooked on gymnastics since she was three years old, a foot injury during her junior year of high school in Memphis signaled, at least to her, that it was over.
It was a fun ride, but it was now time to move on.
“It was devastating,” Wilson said. “Your junior year is the big year for recruiting. I had a really hard time coming back for that injury.”
No more sending out videos to colleges hoping to create more recruiting buzz. No more dreams of continuing on past what she had already done.
“I realized I wasn’t going to do college gymnastics,” she said. “I was just going to have fun in my senior year, so I basically stopped my recruiting process.”
When bad luck taps you on the shoulder, sometimes you just need to realize that it happens for a reason. Or maybe it’s just in disguise.
Just about the time she became content with her decision, she received an e-mail from a gymnastics coach at a small school in north Louisiana.
Three years later, Centenary’s Taylor Ann Wilson, who had once thought her career was over, became a national champion.
It might be easy to say it was a long road for Wilson to become a national champion, but in reality, there was no road. Barely even a dirt trail.
Having seen her name on a recruiting list, Centenary coach Jackie Fain contacted Wilson by e-mail to see if she might be still interested in pursuing a collegiate career.
But it has been a career that has seen its share of challenges. During her freshman year, Wilson suffered another foot injury and because of the Covid craziness of college athletics in her sophomore year, gymnastics meets were regularly cancelled. Wilson had to deal with a Covid infection in January, so she didn’t get a chance to even compete as the Ladies prepared to go in April to the USA Gymnastics national championships — a competition for Division I, II and III schools (Centenary is in Division III).
“About three weeks before the event, coach Jackie told me ‘tag, you’re it’ for the bars competition,” Wilson said. “She was incredibly supportive in getting me ready.”
Still, she had never competed in bars as an individual event in college that was not an exhibition.
The first day, Wilson scored a 9.725 to qualify for the finals. The next day, she won the national championship with a 9.875 and was named as a First Team All-American.
“I didn’t go (to the competition) planning on winning a national championship,” she said. “I wanted to be there for my team. It just turned out that it happened that way.”
Centenary gymnastics competes in the Midwest Independent Conference with schools from all three NCAA divisions. Wilson finished ahead of four competitors from Division I schools to win the national title.
“The community that we have around our conference is so great,” she said. “Everybody is so nice. The other teams are easy to talk to. Everybody knows everybody and they are all there to celebrate with you.”
She trains in all four disciplines – vault, bars, beam, and floor exercise – but bars have always been her specialty. “It’s always been my favorite,” Wilson said. “To me, it’s the most fun. Just swinging and letting it all go. But I think it was always my best (event) when I was younger. It’s what I was recruited for.”
Earlier this year, the Ladies got to open their season against national powerhouse LSU, on a live SEC Network telecast, at a meet in Baton Rouge.
“It was incredible,” Wilson said. “The atmosphere is something we have never experienced. Being on TV was amazing and we had so much fun. That being our first meet and coming off of nationals, I felt like I did well.”
Winning an individual title is quite an accomplishment, but Wilson said that is not the best part of gymnastics. “I’d say being around my teammates and the close connections I have,” she said. “They are there for you and standing by your side. When I do a bar routine, all I hear is them screaming for me. That’s what makes it so much fun and such a joy.”
Photo courtesy CENTENARY COLLEGE