It's rare when the diagnosis of a serious illness is cause for a sigh of relief. Yet that's exactly the sort of unusual position Brianna Springer found herself in early in 2012.
At the beginning of what was supposed to be Springer's senior season with the University of Denver gymnastics team last year, something clearly was amiss with Springer. Constantly feeling lethargic and out of sorts, Springer was unable to put together solid practice sessions, let alone compete at the level she had grown accustomed to. Nothing Springer tried, including watering down the more physical demands of some of her routines, remedied the situation.
Once Springer finally was diagnosed with mononucleosis, the all-around standout actually was relieved to learn her struggles had not occurred because of some unidentifiable erosion of her skills. And once head coach Melissa Kutcher-Rinehart explained that Springer was eligible to delay her senior season with a medical redshirt, mono became all the more manageable.
Able to enjoy the senior campaign that was threatened a year ago, Springer and her fellow senior, Chilean Olympian Simona Castro, will compete in their final home meet for the Pioneers when DU hosts Michigan State Saturday at Hamilton Gymnasium.
"It was really de-motivating because I just never had any energy," Springer said. "I just didn't understand what was going on. When I found out I had mono I was almost glad, because for a minute there I thought I didn't have it any more. When Melissa told me I could redshirt to come back another year, immediately that's what I wanted to because I didn't want a senior year where I was struggling the whole year."
Springer, a top-20 all-around finisher at the NCAA Semifinals in 2010 and 2011, has resumed her role as one of the Pioneers' top all-around performers while shouldering an expanded leadership on what overall has been a young DU squad. She also took advantage of the extra year of school to expand her academic repertoire. Already a major in hospitality management, Springer added a major in finance over the past year and will graduate in June with multiple degrees.
"I've always had the viewpoint that everything happens for a reason," Springer said. "I looked at it as a huge opportunity to get another year of education while finishing up the year that I wanted in gymnastics. When you get things taken away from you, it puts things into perspective more."
Castro, a veteran of the Chilean national circuit, became the second DU gymnast to compete in the Olympics when she competed for her native country last summer in London. Like Springer, her leadership has been invaluable as Kutcher-Rinehart's club has welcomed an influx of young talent this season.
"They both have brought maturity and leadership in different ways," Kutcher-Rinehart said. "Bri being out a year, that definitely fired up her passion. She's so happy to be back and so happy to have another opportunity to finish out her career, I think she's brought that passion and that energy and enthusiasm to become a great mentor.
"Simona has had a lot of experience internationally...and that experience she brings to the team and that leadership has helped make us a really great team. They each have different strengths, but it has been great to watch them come together."
Follow Pat Rooney on Twitter: @prooney07