Emily Brauckmuller gathered herself after falling in her floor routine at the Maryland gymnastics team's 2014 Red vs. Black meet her sophomore year.
She crossed the boundary and hit her head on the adjacent volleyball court at Xfinity Center pavilion. She didn't know it at the time, but she had suffered a concussion.
Brauckmuller only competed in one more meet that season. Though she still felt part of the team, she didn't travel with the Terps, losing out on significant time with her teammates. She watched some road meets but struggled to see the Terps compete without her.
That April, she left her exit meeting with the coaching staff dejected, yearning to positively impact the squad in any way she could.
"I hit rock bottom," Brauckmuller said.
In her senior year, has has enjoyed her most successful campaign, notching career-high scores in vault, beam and floor. As she improved her communication with coach Brett Nelligan and began asking for help, her confidence grew, and her scores flourished.
"It's been fun," Brauckmuller added. "I've been trying to trust what I've been doing in the gym and hope that transfers over in competition and it has for me, which has been lucky. After three years of just trying to keep working at everything I've been doing … this year it's finally been put together."
Before Brauckmuller emerged as one of the team's leaders this season, she endured a difficult transition to college gymnastics. Her club gymnastics coach employed an intense coaching style that often resulted in yelling. On a few occasions, he kicked her out of the gym.
She didn't understand her coach's tactics at first. But after a teammate and her father explained that it meant he wanted to see her excel, Brauckmuller embraced the style.
"What they said made sense," Brauckmuller said. "I think in a way, it kind of scared me into doing really well because I wanted to make sure I made him proud and make him look good and myself look good. I kind of realized that he is yelling at me, but it's also working, so you know, I should just keep doing what I'm doing."
When she arrived in College Park, though, she trained under Nelligan, who is more relaxed. The personality change caused a rift in Brauckmuller's communication with her new coach early on.
Nelligan recognized that he had a "fierce competitor" in Brauckmuller, while she understood he was intent on keeping his coaching style. So the two compromised.
"We made a deal," Nelligan said. "I'm not going to scream and yell at you because that's not what I do in general, but I'll help hold you to a higher standard if you do as well."
It was exactly what Brauckmuller needed to hear. Normally, the team takes a two-week breakfollowing its final meet, but Brauckmuller was back in the gym the day after her sophomore season.
That summer, Brauckmuller stayed in College Park with a handful of other teammates, taking a class and working out daily. As a junior, she competed in 12 meets.
Brauckmuller called that year a turning point, as she approached her senior season with momentum from her recent improvements. She's continued to evolve, earning career highs on three events, and has appeared in every competition entering this weekend's Big Five Meet.
"Honestly I think Senior Night was probably the [most special] moment because it showed all my hard work," she said. "Everything came together."
Brauckmuller is most proud of her perfect practice attendance over her four-year career. Even when she didn't perform at meets, she practiced with the team.
"When I was younger, I had made a promise to myself that I would always finish my routine unless there was a serious injury," she said.
Former teammate Karen Tang noticed that competitive spirit during Brauckmuller's freshman year.
At one practice, when an assistant coach posted the team's vault assignment, Tang wanted to complete the routine first but could only look on as Brauckmuller bested her. She knew at that moment Brauckmuller was capable of motivating her teammates to push themselves.
"Just to see her change and become a leader to these freshmen, it's exactly what gymnastics is all about," Tang said. "It's this whole circle where you're trying to inspire others and from there on, they inspire the younger ones. I'm so, so proud of her."
And when Brauckmuller is gone, she wishes to leave a lasting impact her teammates can learn from.
"I hope that the hard work that I've done over the last four years will show to everyone else, so they can push through whatever is going on in their lives," she said. "I've pushed myself to everything I've been capable of doing."