It took a long trip away from home for Towson State gymnast Erin Shanley to realize just how much potential she had.
When she was 11 years old, she traveled from her home in Virginia Beach, Va., to Houston one weekend to take part in a camp run by U.S. gymnastics coach Bela Karolyi. What was originally planned as just a weekend of fun turned into an invitation to come back to Houston to train with Karolyi and try out for the national team. With dreams of making the Olympics, Shanley accepted.
For several months, Shanley lived with a foster mother, and her long, rigorous days included 3 1/2 hours of school and seven hours of training. The financial strain on her parents and her loneliness began to wear on Shanley, so she left the program and returned home, dedicating herself to earning a college scholarship in gymnastics.
"Leaving home, it was the hardest thing," Shanley said. "At first, I thought I was a failure for coming home, but it was a great learning experience and I got a lot of good things out of the training."
Shanley went on to become the third Towson State gymnast to qualify as an individual all-around competitor (Wendy Weaver in 1992 and Carrie Leger in 1993 were the others) for the NCAA National Championships, beginning today at the University of Florida.
"This was a goal I hoped to reach earlier, but it's more symbolic to make it as a senior," said Shanley, who earned the berth by finishing third in the all-around competition at the Southeast Regionals. "I'm sort of happy now that it happened when it did."
Shanley will compete in the vault, uneven bars, floor exercise and balance beam today, hoping to finish among the top eight and advance to Saturday's finals. Tigers gymnastics coach Dick Filbert said Shanley can finish among the top 16, which would earn her All-America status.
Regardless of what happens at the nationals, it will be a bonus to an already marvelous senior season for Shanley. She established herself as one of the best ever at Towson State by setting 12 school records, including career points (1,809.025), breaking the 1,771.875 total points set by Tandy Knight (1988-91). In last weekend's USA Gymnastics National Invitation Tournament, Shanley's vault score of 9.975 was also a school and personal best.
There also were East Atlantic Gymnastics League titles in vault and bars and seven consecutive meets in which she won the all-around.
"I'm really happy with what I've accomplished, and there is really nothing more left for me to do," Shanley said. "The hard part is over. The regionals were the pressure cooker, but I got where I wanted, and I'll give it all I've got at the nationals."
Said Filbert: "We've had some great teams and individuals here at Towson State, but Erin is now in a group by herself. There isn't a team in the country that wouldn't like to have an Erin."
Shanley, who was a freshman walk-on, has been able to improve every year by upgrading her routines. Many college gymnasts water down their programs by their senior years, but Shanley added new vault and bars programs and put more pizazz in her floor exercise. Her showmanship is evident, and she glows with confidence.
"I worked really hard over the summer, perfecting everything and putting harder skills in my routines," Shanley said.
Shanley has been drawn to gymnastics since she was 6 years old. As a birthday present, her parents enrolled her in a local club for lessons, and Shanley's first competition came when she was 7.
"It was a blessing to my parents to get me off the furniture," said Shanley.
"I knew for the last three years Erin was capable of doing what she's done," Filbert said. "She had the ability and the credentials when she came here. She just needed the guidance and coaching to make her real good. Erin might have done this anywhere."
Pub Date: 4/17/97