Aching joints and bruises bear testament to Rachel Gowey’s devotion to gymnastics.
At 18, the recent Johnston (Iowa) High graduate is a seasoned competitor, propelled by a childhood dream of becoming an Olympian.
She is the latest protégé of coach Liang Chow, training in the same West Des Moines gym as gold-medal winners Shawn Johnson East and Gabby Douglas.
Injuries, however, hampered her progress, and with only five spots available on Team USA, she’ll arrive at this week’s Olympic Trials in San Jose, Calif., knowing a trip to Rio may be out of reach.
Through it all, Gowey remains philosophical.
“I don’t know where I’d be without this journey,” she said. “I wouldn’t have been able to experience how far I could push myself, and what kind of a gymnast I could become.
“So it’s definitely worth it.”
Gowey’s long-shot status — as well as her connection to Chow, who gained global attention for his tutelage of Johnson East and Douglas — could turn her into one of the more relatable and compelling figures in San Jose.
Her struggles mirror the plight of so many talented athletes in so many Olympic sports who fall a split-second or decimal point shy of their lifetime goal.
For those who watched Gowey grow from a tumbling toddler to performing on the international stage, the transformation was captivating.
“I’m very biased talking about Rachel,” said Johnson East, who spent time as Gowey’s babysitter, “because she’s like a little sister to me.
“So I see everything as a strength and no weaknesses at all.”
The selection committee for USA Gymnastics, which will determine four of the five team members, may not be as kind.
Only the all-around individual Trials champion automatically qualifies for the Olympics, and Simone Biles, winner of four consecutive U.S. women’s gymnastics championships, tops the list of contenders.
“I think the USA is strong enough (that) we have the depth to fill at least three teams (that would) do well internationally,” television analyst Samantha Peszek said. “The difference between the girls who are going to be on the team and the girls who will unfortunately not be chosen is the perfect combination of difficulty and consistency.”