If your company is looking to hire someone who can end COVID-19 while flying through the air, we have just the candidate for you.
Gophers gymnast Ona Loper just completed a dream career, athletically and academically. Before she visits Iceland, for fun, or starts her epidemiology career, for humanity, we should recognize what Loper accomplished as an individual and with her teammates.
Lexy Ramler became a collegiate star. Mya Hooten's floor routines became instant viral entertainment. Loper became the quiet achiever of the group, becoming a four-time All-America pick, combining with Ramler to produce the 14 highest all-around scores in program history, recording two perfect 10s on vault and helping Minnesota to a program-best sixth place at the NCAA championships this year as a fifth-year senior.
She was also named to the Big Ten all-academic team and earned a master's degree in epidemiology while working at the Minnesota Department of Health, mainly tracking pregnant women who test positive for COVID-19.
Her gymnastics career over, Loper is headed for R&R in Iceland and what promises to be a long career in the private sector.
Hers is the kind of success story too easily overlooked, so let's make it more public.
Ramler, a native Minnesotan, was a top recruit who became perhaps the best gymnast in school history. Loper was more of a long shot.
She grew up in South Carolina and excelled in gymnastics but somehow received only one major program scholarship offer, from Minnesota. Five years later, she's in need of a house with a large trophy room.
"It was just an incredible experience," Loper said. "This has been an opportunity that you can't take for granted — the experience of a lifetime. There are so many life lessons that can be applied to my future now that I'm done, and I can't imagine my life having gone a different way."
As women's sports increase in popularity, college gymnastics should benefit. (This is also a good reason for the University of Minnesota to reinstate men's gymnastics, a small-budget line item in a massive school budget.)
St. Paul's Suni Lee highlighted the excellence of Minnesota gymnastics at the Tokyo Olympics last summer, and she and Simone Biles, among others, have highlighted the high entertainment value of their sport.
"I would say women's sports in general, and gymnastics specifically, I think it's crazy how much bigger it's gotten in the last few years," Loper said. "It's really exciting. I think it makes sense. It's such a cool sport to watch, and we work so hard that I think gymnastics really deserves the hype."
Gymnasts are powerful, explosive, lithe, flamboyant and tough. Yes, tough. Gymnasts put themselves at physical risk, and endure joint-shredding pounding. Loper tore an Achilles' tendon and had elbow surgery as a freshman but persevered.
"I'm sure the aches and pains will progressively come along," she said. "But right now I'm doing pretty good."
Here's hoping that name, image and likeness (NIL) money finds its ways to college athletes like Loper and her teammates.
“There are so many life lessons that can be applied to my future now that I'm done, and I can't imagine my life having gone a different way.”
Loper made good use of her scholarship. She also worked as an indentured servant for a large, money-making institution. Whether you're a cornerback, volleyball player or vaulter, you deserve a cut.
Not that Loper is complaining. She spent five years with Ramler and her other teammates, thrilling and being thrilled.
One of her favorite memories: The Big Ten meet starting on bars. "Our whole bar rotation was on fire," she said. "I've never seen so many routines in a row that were so amazing. Everyone stuck their dismounts, and the energy in the building was lights out."
Loper is also an example of the importance of recruiting expertise and diligence. Gophers assistant coach Geralen Stack-Eaton heard of Loper and recommended visiting her in Loper's hometown of Bluffton, S.C.
The rest is Gophers history.