Gutierrez Does It For 'A' On Leotard

This Saturday at 6 p.m. CDT in Coleman Coliseum, the Alabama gymnastics team will host the 2013 NCAA Tuscaloosa Regional Championships. the meet will serve as the final home appearance for the Crimson Tide's four seniors, Becca Alexin, Marissa Gutierrez, Ashley Priess, and Ashley Sledge.

Alabama will be vying for its 28th regional title and 31st consecutive trip to the NCAA Championships. Here is a look at senior Marissa Gutierrez:

When Alabama All-American gymnast Marissa Gutierrez hits a great routine there's no need to wait for the judge or even a replay to know just how it went. It will be obvious seconds after she salutes the judges.

"I feel like when you hit a great routine, you did it for the ‘A' on your leotard, and I tell myself that a lot," Gutierrez said. "Because even though it's your performance that counts, you aren't doing it to get some individual title behind your name – it's for the team. So I think that it's exciting to get that. After you nail a vault, you can't just be like, ‘Oh, I'm just going to salute to the judge and trot back – no, I'm going to scream and run down the runway and jump into someone's arms and scream out loud because it's exciting. It doesn't happen all the time."

For the Houston, Texas native, that excitement, that instinct that leads her to leap high in the air in pure joy after a near perfect routine, like her vaults at the last two NCAA Championships, is an expression of pure joy.

"Sarah always tells us, ‘Be proud of what you just did,' and I am," Gutierrez said. "I remember the first time it happened was when Florida came here last year and I stuck a vault and got a 9.95. I had the most surprised look on my face afterwards, but I knew I just did a really good job, so it's fun. I think that excitement has evolved while I've been in college because you just keep having fun and I think when you have fun, you do well."

Gutierrez is bringing that same enthusiasm and excitement to her internship with at the Stallings RISE Center this semester, where she is working with the three-year old class five days a week.

"I feel like I've always had this teacher instinct," Gutierrez said. "Even when I was little, I was always the one like, ‘Can I grade papers? Can I do this? Can I write on the chalkboard?' That's always just been in me."

Still, working with the RISE program is a different challenge. Her classroom has special needs children as well as mainstream students. Coming into this year, Gutierrez wasn't sure if working with special needs children was where she wanted to go with her career.

"I wasn't so sure I was going to like working at RISE," Gutierrez said. "But I worked as a substitute at the children's program last semester and I liked it and was like, ‘Yeah, this is great. I can totally see myself doing something like this.'"

That revelation led to this semester's internship and the realization that her personality is well matched to the challenges and joys that come with working at RISE.

"I feel like I'm very hands-on and assertive and I feel like RISE meets that capability more because there are special needs children and some of them do need more attention," Gutierrez said. "From day one, I was not afraid to put myself in difficult situations. There are children that require more than other kids in the classroom and I will purposely put myself with them to get the most out of my internship because I know that's what I want to do."

Gutierrez, who earned a perfect 4.0 grade point average in the fall, is set to graduate with a degree in early childhood development in May. After finishing both her athletic and academic career at the Capstone, she plans to go into teaching and perhaps pursue a master's degree in special education. The end of her career will engender big changes for the three-year member of the SEC Academic Honor Roll.

"I don't know life without gymnastics so I think that's going to be a huge transition," she said. "I've been doing it since I was four and a half. It's never going to be completely out of my life just because I've been doing it forever, but it won't be my every day anymore. So I'll have to find something else that I'm good at, which is going to be different."

For now though, she is focused on enjoying her final season in a sport she's dedicated her life to and with women she now considers sisters.

"I'm going to miss the girls," Gutierrez said. "Coming in and goofing around with them in the locker room, during meets and when we're traveling and just hanging out."

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