When gymnast Taylor Ricci made an unofficial visit to Oregon State University in high school, she had only ever set foot on one other American college campus at a gymnastics meet at the University of Washington.
A teammate at Flicka Gymnastics Club where she trained in North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, former Oregon State gymnast Laura-Ann Chong, told Ricci all about her college experience. Ricci’s trip to Corvallis matched what she had dreamed of, and left no doubt of where she wanted to attend college.
"When I came here and saw everything, I knew that’s what I wanted," Ricci recalled.
For Ricci, gymnastics was a means to achieving another dream, becoming a sports medicine doctor. But soon after arriving, she would experience a setback with the potential to jeopardize the athletic scholarship that paid her college tuition. She would have to fight harder than she ever imagined to stay on course.
Ask anyone who knows Ricci, and they’ll say she is one of the most driven, hard-working people around. That determination and self-motivation allowed her not only to stay in the sport she loves, but also to rise to the top echelon of student-athlete leadership, representing her sport, her school, her conference and Division I college athletes around the country.
Fast-forward to 2017, Ricci’s final season with Oregon State Gymnastics, and take note of her accomplishments. She kept her spot on the team and competed in championship seasons; received the highest student honor at OSU, the Waldo Cummings Outstanding Student Award, and is an Academic All-American; president of Oregon State’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee; Pac-12 student representative chairwoman; conference representative to the NCAA Student-Athlete Advisory Committee; on track to graduate in 2018 with a degree in exercise and sports science; preparing to take the medical school entrance exam this spring. Soon, she’ll join the ranks of former Oregon State gymnasts who’ve gone on to become successful businesswomen, teachers, doctors, lawyers, veterinarians and dentists.
As a first-generation college student, Ricci has charted a path that no other student-athlete in Oregon State history has ever been down; one that will be held up as an example for others to follow for years to come.
Ricci is as comfortable in a medical office shadowing physicians who care for injured athletes as she is turning a double-pike to close out a pass on her floor exercise routine.
"She’s level-headed and thoughtful. You can see her think through problems," said Craig Graham, MD, a sports medicine specialist at Samaritan Athletic Medicine, also known as The SAM. "That’s pretty important in medicine."
Ricci experienced first-hand the calming reassurance from doctors, physical therapists and trainers who treated her and helped her recover from injuries she suffered as a gymnast. In high school, she had stress fractures in her shins from the repetition of practicing and competing in vault and floor exercises. Back then, her physical therapist would stay late so she could come after practice for treatment. She hopes one day to show that same dedication to her patients. She can convey genuine empathy because she knows what it’s like to be on the receiving end of a sports injury diagnosis.
Ricci participates in the medical careers pipeline program through OSU Athletics that provides mentoring, exposure and preparation to work in health care. She has done job shadows at The SAM, which serves the university community, Oregon State Athletics and the general public, and is a site for student internships, training and research.
Next fall, Ricci will take the medical school entrance exam, and apply to medical schools. The following spring, she’ll find out where she’s been accepted before graduation.
In the meantime, she’s preparing to assist Douglas Aukerman, MD, Director of Sports Medicine at The SAM, in a study aimed at helping overhead athletes (baseball, softball and tennis). Ricci feels fortunate for the experiences she’s had through the medical pipeline program and at The SAM.
"This is exactly what I want to do," Ricci said.