Being a collegiate gymnast was always a dream for Missouri senior Britney Ward.
Her parents, Darrell and Debbie Ward, own Missouri Valley Gymnastics in Ozark, and Debbie has been a gymnastics coach since 1984. Naturally, Ward spent most of her time in gymnastics as a child.
“I was kind of a little gym brat,” Ward said. “But my parents always made sure it was something I wanted to be in, but they honestly couldn’t pull me away.”
Britney’s older sister Whitney was also a gymnast and cheerleader. She now coaches at the family gym along with their mother.
For Ward, gymnastics is a family tradition, but she didn’t just compete in gymnastics because of family. She loved it. As a child, it was a way for her to get out of the house, expend some energy and, well, just be a kid.
Ward excelled as a gymnast in high school. She was home-schooled growing up and spent most of her time training for gymnastics. Her hard work paid off as she won the 2013 Junior Olympic National Level 10 Beam title.
On the high school stage, Ward discovered the competition of the sport. It was rewarding seeing the results of all the hours spent in the gym. Britney’s mother and father were always very competitive, and even though her dad didn’t compete in gymnastics, Ward said he competed in nearly every sport.
“I come from a very long line of competitive people, whether we’re playing board games, card games or doing sports,” Ward said with a smile.
Due to her background and gymnastics talent, schools began recruiting her around the time she began high school. All the hard work by Ward and her family’s training were about to pay off.
Out of the schools recruiting Ward, she was most interested in Oklahoma and Missouri.
“I wasn’t sure if I wanted to stay in Missouri. Originally, I wanted to branch out a little bit,” Ward said.
The turning point was when Ward took a trip to visit the MU campus.
“The atmosphere and environment Mizzou had to offer, it just felt like home.”
Ward noted that even beyond athletics, she was interested in the resources and prep MU offered to help set her up for a career beyond gymnastics, making MU an “easy choice.”
Her freshman year, Ward shined for the Tigers. She claimed a spot on the All-SEC and Freshman All-SEC teams for her performance at SEC Championships.
Ward has claimed All-SEC spots in her freshman, sophomore and junior seasons. Though she missed All-SEC honors in her 2019 campaign, Ward was nominated for the American Athletic Inc. award, given to the top senior gymnast in the NCAA. Ward was one of the 25 nominees, but she wasn’t named a finalist.
The accolades aren’t the only part of Ward’s time at Missouri that she cherishes.
The roar of Tigers fans after the team nails a routine and the dedicated fans who make it to every home meet are some of Ward’s favorite memories from competing at Hearnes Center.
Growing up, Ward was always able to train for gymnastics with her family. At MU, though not by blood, she was able to compete with her new family.
“Our team is really close. Do we get along every day? No. But we are like sisters,” Ward said.
“We don’t fight, usually, but if we do it’s in a loving way, and we support each other no matter what.”
For many gymnasts, college tends to be the end of the road for gymnastics. Though it may be bittersweet for Ward, her career in gymnastics has allowed her to pursue a passion of helping others, specifically children.
Ward earned her degree in occupational therapy, she specifically wants to help children overcoming physical injuries, disabilities and ailments. Ward wants to give back to others, just like the family and friends who helped her achieve her dreams.
Ward said she will begin her master’s program in June, with hopes of becoming a certified occupational therapist after college. She may be done competing, but gymnastics has prepared her for the rest of her life.
Supervising editor is Seth Bodine.