Olympic gymnast Elise Ray was named head coach for the University of Washington.
“My Olympic experience was pretty awful, actually,” said Washington’s new gymnastics coach, whose hiring was announced Wednesday. “It was really hard, a lot of things went wrong. It was really tough.
“I didn’t really think I wanted to do gymnastics anymore. I just wanted to be done.”
But Michigan offered her a way to stay in gymnastics.
“It was so healing,” said Ray, who is replacing her mentor and former coach, Joanne Bowers. “It relit the passion for gymnastics. I was so thankful I was there. I had the time of my life.”
During her time in Ann Arbor, Mich., she tied for an all-around title (2001), claiming a gold medal on the beam in 2002 and on bars in 2004. By the time she graduated, she had the most All-American honors in program history (14).
“They welcomed me with open arms,” Ray said. “I learned how to compete for others. I no longer cared about what I was doing. I just wanted the team to do well and that was a very new concept for me that I just loved.”
For three of her four years at Michigan, Joanne Bowers was her coach.
“She played a huge role in just being there for me and teaching me how to love gymnastics, how to compete for my team,” Ray said. “She was very much a mentor for me, in addition to being a great coach.”
“When I said I want my girls to have the best four years of their lives, that’s because that’s the way I feel about my experience,” she said. “I want to pay it forward.”
So here she is, presented with a dream job, one she never knew she wanted until the opportunity presented itself. Now she has big goals. She wants to build on the foundation Bowers established.
“We want our athletes to be better when they leave than when they come in,” Ray said.
She expects to build a program capable of competing among the nation’s best.
“I’m so thrilled to get this job,” she said. “I realized a couple of years in that this is what I really wanted. This is where I want to be. I love it here. I love Seattle so much. I love the team. I’m just really, really excited about our potential.”