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Wednesday, September 27, 2023

For senior Maranda Smith, the pain is always there. It’s just a matter of how much it hurts.

But she doesn’t let that stop her.

When No. 4 Florida won its seventh Southeastern Conference title March 27 — its first since 2007 — the pain was almost too much for the three-time All-American from Placerville, Calif.

“We had to shut her down for almost the full week after that,” UF coach Rhonda Faehn said. “Even then, the last couple of days heading into regionals, she was in so much pain she just couldn’t really do anything.”

Smith’s right shoulder began hurting after her freshman year at UCLA, but she thought nothing of it at the time because she was focused on a stress fracture in her right shin — an injury that required a rod to be inserted to repair.

During her first season at Florida in 2008, she had the shoulder looked at because it started to hurt again. It turned out she had a torn labrum, but she decided to compete through the injury.

Last offseason, she had surgery to repair the labrum and started rehabbing the next day.

After six weeks in a sling and months of rehabilitation, Smith was ready to return to competition in time for her senior season.

But the pain was still there.

“My shoulder still hurts when I drive my car, turn the steering wheel or open a door, and in gymnastics obviously,” Smith said. “It was kind of disappointing because I thought with the surgery, it wouldn’t hurt as much, but it probably hurts more than it did last year.”

That didn’t stop Smith all season, and she certainly wasn’t going to let it slow her after the SEC Championships.

With all of the injuries she has fought through, Smith is accustomed to not being able to practice as much, but the restrictions she faced following SECs were particularly hard.

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“It was just frustrating that I had been doing so well all season, and then when I’m supposed to feel my best and it’s the most important time of the season I wasn’t able to train very much,” Smith said.

Doubt started to set in for her the Wednesday before the team left for Salt Lake City, when she was unable to practice her bar routine because of “excruciating pain” in her shoulder.

“I just had to stress to her again that she’s been doing this for so long and for so many months that her body knows what to do and that she has to allow that in her mind,” Faehn said.

After the practice day, Smith relaxed and blocked out the pain. She felt confident again, the most confident she has felt all season.

Smith went out on the floor in the Huntsman Center and turned in a 9.9 on all three of her events — floor, vault and bars. Afterward, she said it was probably the best performance of her college career.

Heading into the NCAA Championships, and the final meet of her career, Smith is ready to fight through the pain one last time.

“My shoulder, it hurts a lot, but I’ve fought this long through the season, I’m definitely going to make it through nationals,” Smith said. “I’ll make it through, I’ll be fine.”

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