BY KEVIN SANFORD
With every step, a sharp pain pierced his spine as if a bullet was passing through his flesh. Bryce Sampson, 20, barely found the power to take another step as he made his way into the gymnastics training room at Ohio State University.
A year removed from his third-place all-around finish at the Junior Olympic National Championships, Sampson never felt so distant from the sport he loved. For the first time as an aspiring Olympic gymnast, Sampson was fighting an inner emotional battle that surpassed the physical ones he encountered in the gym.
“It was my brain versus my heart; I went back and forth for awhile on the decision,” Sampson recalled.
He faced one of the toughest decisions of his life—whether to have back surgery to repair two stress fractures and one extremely worn disc or to retire and walk away from the sport he had known for almost 10 years.
During his junior year of high school, Sampson took a one-year hiatus from the sport due to trouble with his back. After months in therapy and rehabilitation, Sampson’s determination pushed him back on the mat all the way to nationals.
In 2013, Sampson reached the new pinnacle of his career as he placed third all-around in the Junior Olympic National Championships and accepted the opportunity to be a part of the Ohio State Men’s Gymnastics Program. Sampson’s mother Stephanie described this time as “the culmination of all the hard-work, dedication and perseverance [Bryce] put in.”
A year later, Sampson’s back injury came back with a vengeance; he described his injury as “only getting progressively worse.” As the summer of 2014 approached, he faced a harsh reality of sports—sometimes the body can’t keep up with the heart.
That summer Sampson questioned many things. He asked himself, “Why me?” or “Is the possibility of the Olympics worth more to me than my future health?”
After weeks of self-reflection and time spent with family, Sampson made one of the toughest decisions of his life—to walk away from the game. The emotional pain felt and tears shed on the day he sat down with his parents to make the decision to leave Ohio State and gymnastics would not mark the end for him.
“Staying humble through the highs and lows is the key to succeeding,” Sampson said.