Rebekah Ripley competes after injury
What would your reaction be if you were finally able to fully participate in an activity you love after three years of devastating injuries?
For BYU gymnast Rebekah Bean Ripley, all she could do was cry.
After three years of recovery, Ripley was finally competed once again with a half-pike on the vault at Jan. 14’s Best of Utah meet. All of Ripley’s efforts to recuperate after multiple knee surgeries were worth it for this moment.
Finding a love of the sport
Ripley started competing in gymnastics when she was just three years old, also playing a number of other sports including soccer, swim and dance. It was at age 11 when Ripley began to get serious for her love of gymnastics.
“I’ve stuck with it just because I love the sport,” Ripley said. “I’ve always just been good at it and I’ve always loved doing it. I never went to practice because I had to or because my coaches were forcing me or my parents were forcing me. I just genuinely loved it… I love everything about it.”
“It was always led by her, totally self-driven from the get-go,” said Ripley’s mother, Laura Bean.
Ripley found an identity in gymnastics as she won the USA Gymnastics Level 9 Women’s Junior Olympic Western Championships in 2016 and had her sights on becoming a collegiate gymnast.
Fighting through injuries
Ripley was excited to have achieved her goal to become a student athlete as she joined the BYU gymnastics team in 2019. As Ripley was rounding out her first season as a Cougar, she tore her ACL. She began the rehabilitation process but would tear her ACL a second time. Ripley once again started the recovery process but soon found herself sidelined for the third time with a torn meniscus.
“I’m honestly just a very positive, optimistic person which is kind of like my Achilles heel but also my superpower. Cause, you know, toxically I’m optimistic,” Ripley said. “After being so optimistic for a long time, after I kept getting injured again and again, I got so frustrated cause normally my optimism is the thing that keeps me going. It’s how I’ve gotten to be a college gymnast. It’s kept me super happy, but it got so frustrating.”
As Ripley started the recovery process for the third time, her coach, Brogan Evanson, felt that she had to ensure that Rebekah truly did want to continue being a gymnast after three severe injuries in a row. Ripley never expressed to her coaches that she wanted to refocus elsewhere and reassured them that she was at BYU to be a student athlete.
“Resiliency almost doesn’t do it justice because she’s got so much heart to give it her all,” Evanson said. “Don’t get me wrong, she’s had the tears, she’s had the disappointment, she’s human. She always comes back the next day or the next week or the next month like ‘I’m ready to try again.’”
Ripley did everything that she could to recover so she could get back to competing. “If there’s a plan that she can overcome an injury and make it back successfully, she’s going to go for it,” Ripley’s father Tom said. “She’s done that each time.”
Barbie Girl Routine
Throughout these injuries, Ripley has been motivated to get back to competing. One of the biggest focuses has been her floor routine.
Over a year and a half ago, Ripley was in the gym with a friend trying to come up with some ideas for her floor routine. Her friend was the one who felt that Ripley had the look and personality to pull off a Barbie themed routine. Being somewhat nervous, she decided to take this idea to Evanson, who is the floor and vault coach. “You can’t have a better idea than this,” Evanson said.
They got to work picking music, which includes the throwback tune “Barbie Girl” by Aqua and “plastic” sound effects to amplify the portrayal of Barbie. “It was a really fun process and Rebekah is really driven and passionate,” Evanson said.
Ripley was finally able to compete with this routine at the opening meet of this season and the internet went crazy for her performance. The routine was featured in People Magazine and on ESPN’s social media channels, as well as many gymnastics Instagram and TikTok posts.
“My coaches and teammates had said that I was going to go viral and that the routine would get a lot of attention and I thought it would be cool if that happens,” Ripley said. “I didn’t expect it to happen in the very first competition I competed in since 2019.”
For Ripley, the best part was seeing the impact that she was making on young gymnasts who have also struggled through injury. “I have had a lot of young gymnasts and other people tell me that I’ve been encouraging and giving them hope because they see my knee brace and they see that I have overcome that,” Ripley said. “It makes me feel good that I am making people feel better about themselves, too.”
Even after going viral for her performance, Ripley knew that there were areas that she could improve for subsequent meets and went to Evanson ready to refine the routine.
“I feel like I overcame so much, and it just feels amazing,” Ripley said as she looked back at the trials that she experienced through her injuries. Ripley will finish up her collegiate career at BYU this season and move into her advertising career, but she will never forget these experiences that helped her become who she is today.
“You can’t ask for anything more as a coach, to see all of that hard work pay off and for Rebekah to realize that it’s all been hard, but it’s all been worth it,” Evanson said.
Ripley will take the same determination, passion, drive, and vision that she brought to BYU gymnastics into every other aspect of her life.