By Nick Arthur
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
Situated on the right corner wall of Mountaineer gymnastics’ Cary Gym hanging from the rafter above is a banner of the three four-year seniors currently on the West Virginia University gymnastics roster.
Each gymnast has a word placed across the bottom of her respective banner.
Senior Beth Deal has the banner that is draped to the far right with the word “legacy” spanning under her picture.
Don’t think this is a coincidence.
“It says ‘legacy’ under her name for a reason,” said West Virginia coach Jason Butts.
For a little girl who grew up in Parkersburg, West Virginia, there was something special about West Virginia gymnastics. Deal just knew it was what she wanted to do – there were no other options.
“She was wide-eyed and open-mouthed the first time she saw the team,” said Deal’s mother, Sherrie Bunner. “They were movie stars to her. She just thought Mountaineer gymnastics was the biggest thing in the world – to be able to go to college at WVU and be one of those girls. That was as big as it could get.”
Deal would often make the two-hour drive from her home with her mother to the WVU Coliseum to take in the action.
“I was always the little girl coming to meets in the WVU Coliseum and getting the posters they handed out for my room,” Deal admitted. “When they threw out the t-shirts before the meet, I always wanted to be the one throwing t-shirts from the mat.”
So Deal didn’t waste any time. When she was just six years old, she started taking classes at a local gym, Gymniks. She improved each year and still had her sight set on one thing – attending West Virginia University.
She started attending camps at WVU and familiarized herself with the program and coaches.
But much like any situation in life, there was adversity.
“It was hard. All of your friends are doing all of these other sports and going to all of these games and stuff, and I would be at practice for five hours,” Deal said. “I would be gone from seven in the morning to nine o’clock at night. And I would have to drive 20 minutes to the gym I went to.”
She stuck with it, though, and college coaches took notice. They began to return the favor and make the drive down to Parkersburg to watch Deal compete.
“She had opportunities at other schools, but I don’t even think she looked at them,” Butts said. “She knew where she wanted to go.”
To no surprise to anyone close to Deal, she committed to the Mountaineers. And, on January 8, 2012, her dream came true. It was a home tri-meet for West Virginia at the WVU Coliseum against Penn State and Maryland, Deal’s first-ever at the place she dreamt of competing inside.
“I remember standing on the floor for our first home meet when I was a freshman and it hit me,” Deal explained. “I had made it. There were so many little girls in the crowd looking at me, wanting to be in my spot.
“I needed to show them I’m from Parkersburg, I’m from West Virginia. I needed to show them how proud I am to be at this University and to inspire these little girls.”
Her mother, who has missed one meet in four years, remembers the moment quite well.
“It was hard not to have tears in my eyes. She had worked so hard, and it hadn’t been easy. There have been obstacles that she has had to overcome,” Bunner said. “To see her down there on the floor, I was just so thrilled for her. It’s what she wanted so badly for so long.”
The beam specialist didn’t disappoint that afternoon in Morgantown as she placed second with a 9.825 mark.
The exercise physiology major carried that momentum for the rest of her freshman campaign, eventually claiming the East Atlantic Gymnastics League (EAGL) beam title. She was named to the EAGL All-Academic Team and helped her Mountaineers to the 2012 EAGL Championship.
“The day she walked in the door as a freshman, she just had this confidence about her. I think it was due to her comfort level with this program,” Butts said.
Deal’s career moved forward, witnessing multiple individual and team accolades along the way, including an individual NCAA Regional qualification a year ago and a No. 32 national ranking on beam.
“You blink, and it’s your senior year,” she admitted. “They warn you about it and you don’t believe them. I’ve been one to not take any day for granted – just to take it day by day and week by week. That helps me live and enjoy the moment, rather than wishing it away. Each year was completely different for me.”
Her final year in the Old Gold and Blue has already gotten underway. With her last routine just months away, Deal doesn’t even want to begin to think about what the feeling of no longer competing will be like.
“I don’t even want to talk about that,” Deal said with a smile. “Wearing blue and gold and knowing I did everything I possibly could for this team, I’ll look back with no regrets. I worked hard every single day. There isn’t much more I can do than that.”Deal’s contributions to the program won’t be forgotten anytime soon.