Laura Hancock has a simple approach to the way she performs her gymnastics routines: "Go big or go home."
The Raiders senior co-captain admitted her mount onto the balance beam -- in which she does a difficult cartwheel off the springboard and then rolls her shoulder onto the four-inch-wide apparatus -- "sets the standard" for how her routine will go. Bad mount? Probably not a great score.
Why not make an easier mount, master it and parlay that confidence into a solid 90-second beam set?
"If you can do it and you've done it before, then do it again," Hancock said, displaying the no-nonsense, go-for-broke, all-or-nothing attitude that has helped her overcome three serious injuries in the past four years and emerge as last season's Cedar Run District all-around champion. "Because that's the only way you're going to get better."
In two meets this season, Hancock helped Stonewall to a victory over Woodbridge and a second-place finish to Osbourn Park in a tri-meet that included Forest Park.
In the Woodbridge meet to open the season, Hancock won the vault (9.3) and floor exercise (9.0), tied for first on beam (8.7), placed second on bars (8.7) and won the all-around (35.7). And this after a lengthy layoff because of a broken foot suffered during a fall at the beach in June.
Probably her biggest accomplishment this season -- especially considering that she couldn't run from June until November -- was the one-half-on, 1 1/2-twist vault she landed cleanly for the first time. It happened at both meets.
"I hadn't ever stood one up before, even at practice," she said. "I've always been a good competitor, I guess. I just didn't know how good."
Now, Hancock said, she is hoping to take the vault a step further and "do a double," meaning two full twists in the air, which will raise the vault's level of difficulty to a 10.0.
"Laura always impresses me," Coach Karen Lutman said. "I've never seen her let [fear of injuries] affect her. She's not one to make excuses. She takes charge of what she needs to do."
Perhaps the fact that Hancock is still competing in gymnastics at all is a tribute to her gumption. As an eighth-grader, she suffered two fractures in her back and was in a body cast for six weeks. In addition, she had to take cortisone shots to help the healing process.
Two years later, as a sophomore, Hancock tore ligaments in her elbow days before the district meet. She elected not to have surgery. The elbow healed, but she said it sometimes still "sticks" during a routine, and she has to wait until bone and cartilage fragments still lodged in her elbow reconfigure themselves.
Still, she competes. And one of the reasons is that she wants to help the Raiders reach the eight-team state championship meet, a summit they missed by .125 at regionals last year.
"I just don't want to give it up," she said. "The doctor was joking with me, saying you're going to have to walk with a cane by the time you're 21. I don't think that's going to be the case, but we'll see."