SEATTLE — Anna Epps had one of the best seats in the house for the University of Washington gymnastics team’s upset win over top-ranked UCLA 11 days ago.
She would’ve preferred to be even closer to the action.
Epps, a senior gymnast from Mill Creek, worked hard to return from an ankle injury that kept her off the mat in 2011 — only to have shoulder problems end her career abruptly before this season began.
Now, instead of competing with the Huskies in her senior season, Epps has had to find different roles. Still one of four team captains, she has also become an unofficial team trainer, a road-trip planner, a blogger for road meets and, of course, a cheerleader.
“It’s definitely a different perspective,” the Archbishop Murphy High School graduate said over the weekend. “Everyone has a role on the team, regardless of what you’re doing, and it helps make the team a better team. When you’re sitting out, you find your role.”
This isn’t exactly a dream role for the UW senior, who has been competing in gymnastics for almost her entire life. But after her problematic shoulder gave out while assisting a young gymnast at a UW camp in August, Epps knew she would have to adjust.
“Definitely, there’s a mourning process,” she said. “I started (competing in gymnastics) when I was 3 years old, so I’ve been doing it for 18 years. When someone takes that away from you, it’s definitely difficult.
“As time goes on, it gets easier. It’s hard to see people doing what you want to be doing. I’m a true believer in: everything happens for a reason. I have no idea why this happened to me, but maybe I’ll look back one day and say: ‘Oh, that’s why this happened.’”
Epps, who grew up in several cities around the country as the daughter of an Air Force veteran and eventually settled in this part of the country 11 years ago, has tried to fill whatever role she can with this year’s Huskies. She does an occasional blog on the athletic department’s website and is responsible for finding restaurants as the team prepares to go on the road.
Her favorite moment so far has been the upset of No. 1 UCLA at home on Jan. 27. Even though Epps had to watch that performance from the proverbial bench, she was just as emotionally invested as any of her teammates.
“We were all ecstatic,” she said. “That was an amazing feeling. Now I’ve kind of realized my role, so it doesn’t bother me as much. Of course, I want to be out there competing. I can’t think: I wish I was out there competing, or I’ll be unhappy the whole season.”