Wall fights adversity with his passion for gymnastics

by Susan Filkins

Unless it is plausible to read his mind, it is merely impossible to tell what Gophers gymnast Heath Wall is thinking. The senior co-captain is expressionless. He hardly ever cheers. In fact, he rarely even talks, but he is an intense, passionate and determined competitor.
Wall, a native of Sterling Heights, Mich., says he does not want people to view him the wrong way when he fails to voice his opinion. That is just the way he is.
“I guess you could call it like a tunnel vision,” Wall said. “I am not trying to be a separatist or an individualist apart from the team, that’s just my work ethic.”
Over the past four years, his work ethic has awarded Wall with a great deal to smile about.
In his sophomore season, Wall finished fourth in the parallel bars and fifth in the still rings at the Big Ten championships. He helped Minnesota win the Big Ten title the same year. Last year, he finished third in the still rings at Big Tens with a 9.7, but his team finished a disappointing fourth.
Yet, with all his success, Wall said he has never made it through a full season without an injury.
Even during the first meet of this year, Wall sprained his ankle. Until last weekend, he was unable to compete on the floor exercise.
“It was extremely disappointing for me,” Wall said. “I thought, ‘oh great, here we go again: Every single year something happens.'”
Wall’s injuries extend back to his high school years where a dislocated shoulder almost kept him out of collegiate competition. The shoulder injury happened just before his senior season, leaving his gymnastics plans up in the air.
In January of his senior year, Wall decided to put together a tape of his gymnastics performances after he started to get back on track. He sent it to various Big Ten schools, and a month later, Gophers coach Fred Roethlisberger gave him a call.
“I got a call from Fred, and he said, ‘Hey, who are you? I’ve never heard of you,'” Wall said. “After that, he invited me up for a trip.”
After visiting both Minnesota and Iowa, Wall was like a free agent, going back and forth between the two schools. He said it finally came down to a greater scholarship offer from Minnesota and the impressive program Roethlisberger presented.
Wall said choosing the Gophers was the best decision he could have made.
With only two regular season meets and the Big Ten championships left, gymnastics for Wall will be over in about a month. He said the decision to retire from the sport was a difficult one for him to make.
“There was a time a year or so ago, when I was really looking forward to staying after my fourth year to work out and see how far I could go in USA gymnastics,” Wall said. “But through the course of this season and the past couple of years, things have started to catch up with me.”
Wall said after competing in gymnastics since he was four, it will be almost impossible to give up the sport entirely.
“I think I will play around and do some things,” he said. “I don’t think you can ever give up something in your blood since it has been there so long.”
With the end of his career at Minnesota inching closer, Wall said it will be hard to leave the close relationships he has developed over four years.
“I have gotten so used to traveling with the team, practicing with the team and living with my teammates. It is hard to think all of a sudden, in a month or two to quit, and not travel with the team anymore, and not go to practice every afternoon. Minnesota has given me a lot. I don’t even know where to begin.”