When Brianna Greenlow summitted the podium as all-around champion at the Class 6-7A state gymnastics meet the night of May 3, it ended a climb that spanned almost her whole career and started at one of the lowest points imaginable.
In just the second meet of Greenlow’s high school gymnastics career, in her freshman year at Lambert, she broke both ankles, an injury that put her in a wheelchair and ended her season.
It also forced Greenlow to make a decision about her path in the sport. When her club coach heard about what had happened, he told Greenlow and her other club teammates that they could either pick club or high school gymnastics, but not both. It was a choice with serious weight, as club gymnastics is the path to a college scholarship in the sport.
And it was a choice that Greenlow simply wasn’t going to make.
“I remember being like, ‘You can’t do this to my teammates because of me, and you also can’t do this to me,’” Greenlow said.
The three seasons since then have been infinitely better for Greenlow, and her senior year was the best of all. Greenlow won the all-around at the county championship meet, was the top placer in the event at the Class 6-7A state prelims, and won it again at state, the first time she had won the event at that meet.
“It’s nice to get that recognition, because you put so much work into it,” Greenlow said. “You tell yourself, ‘I’m going to do the best that I can do today,’ but when it really pays off and really shows, you just feel proud of yourself, and you’re like, ‘I worked for this.’”
Greenlow could continue high school gymnastics due in large part to her choice of college: The coaches at William & Mary were encouraging of her desire to keep going with the Longhorns, which many other college coaches would have forbidden. She expects to see elements of both club and high school gymnastics at the college level, with higher skill level of the former and the team atmosphere of the latter.
Greenlow's educational and career plans are somewhat predictable for an athlete – a major in kinesiology and minor in psychology, with the idea of pursuing sports medicine or occupational therapy – but her other post-college ambitions are not. She hopes to join Cirque du Soleil for some time, and she's certainly in the physical shape to do so.
"You technically still have to audition," Greenlow said, "but being a Level 10 gymnast, they will most likely take me."
High school gymnastics produced some of the more discouraging moments in Greenlow's career, but also some of most unique and unforgettable ones. That includes the team competition in the state meet this year, in which West Forsyth was awarded the title, but only after tying with the Longhorns and going to a tiebreaker, an outcome that wasn't without controversy.
"We won state, so no one can take that away from us," Greenlow said.
It all might not have happened, had she made the decision after her injury to put the main focus on her individual future. But Greenlow couldn't – she needed her team.
"Coming back, I knew that I needed to do both to make it through," she said.