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Western Michigan University gymnast nominated for inspiration award following neck injury

Payton Murphy
Posted at 5:45 PM, Jul 06, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-06 17:57:26-04

KALAMAZOO, Mich. — A Western Michigan University gymnast has earned a nomination for a national award following her comeback from a neck injury.

It's an inspiration award that is showing people all over what resilience can look like.

"Gymnastics, and any other sport really, is really challenging on your mind and your body, so I just wanted to put that out there that you don't have to think about these injuries as a negative part of your life, sometimes it turns out to be great," said Payton Murphy, the WMU gymnast who is a finalist for the 2022 College Women's Sports Awards' (CWSA) Honda Inspiration Award.

Payton Murphy, an Illinois-native is entering her senior year as a collegiate gymnast this upcoming fall.

"There was no way I wasn't coming back from this injury," said Murphy.

Murphy said it was motivation that got her through three months of recovery after breaking her neck.

"I didn't want to have that whole long recovery process. I just wanted to get the injury out of my mind to just get back on the event and let go of it all," said Murphy.

She started gymnastics at age five, and by eight years old, she was competing.

Murphy competed throughout high school and committed to Western Michigan University, where she could focus on both her nursing major and still be on the gymnastics team.

"Not many schools at this level let you do such a rigorous major, like nursing because of clinical hours and just missing practices," said Murphy.

She started practicing with the team in August 2019, competing in her first meet in January 2020.

"I actually won that meet. I won all around and I helped our team beat Michigan State, which was huge, because that's a Big 10 school," said Murphy.

Just two days later at practice, she had an accident.

"I was practicing bars. I took my last turn. And I was doing my dismount, and I slipped off a little too early and landed on the back of my neck and head area," said Murphy.

She ended up in the hospital with a hairline fracture in her neck. She was put in a neck brace for around three months and was told she could no longer compete until she was healed.

"I just kind of cheered my team on from the sidelines. I did the most that I can with what was going on. I really wanted to be out there, of course, but my job at the time was to help my teammates get through the season ahead," said Murphy.

In April 2020 after getting her neck brace off, she said she got right back to it.

She practiced in her home gym during the summer and went back to Kalamazoo in the fall to train with her team.

Murphy competed at her second meet as a collegiate gymnast in January 2021, around one year following her accident.

She said she got all of her skills back, except for the dismount she injured her neck on. She also learned some new skills.

"I think it was just my whole mindset during that injury that really took away any fear," said Murphy.

Most recently, she was nominated for the 2022 College Women's Sports Awards' (CWSA) Honda Inspiration Award. It's an award honoring a female athlete who overcame an illness or injury.

"This has been a whirlwind, this whole injury, and I'm just so grateful that so many people get to hear my story and hopefully, I'm inspiring people around me," said Murphy.

Murphy also won the 2021 Mid-American Conference (MAC) Gymnast of the Year.