Luck has tried its best to end Natalie Ettl's career.
It has dealt her two knee tears, a torn meniscus and multiple surgeries.
Despite all the injuries, the Penn State sophomore has fought back and is now one of the elite gymnasts in the nation.
In a meet against Illinois this past weekend, Ettl cemented her position in the top tier of gymnasts. Ettl racked up a career-high 9.950 on the uneven bars, just shy of the school record.
"The routine just felt great," she said. "Everything felt right -- the handstands, the release move was huge, I stuck the dismount."
It's not Ettl's preference to perform only on bars, but the number of knee injuries she has suffered cost her a chance to compete in the all-around like she was accustomed to in high school.
In 2005, Ettl tore the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in her right knee for the first time. After a year of rehabbing, Ettl tore it again in the same knee in 2007 after returning to the gym just months prior. Then, as a senior in high school, Ettl had to undergo more surgery to repair a torn meniscus, causing her to settle for a career on bars at Penn State.
"There are times when I just want to go randomly do floor routine," Ettl joked.
Ettl has adjusted quite well, becoming one of the best bar specialists in the country. With the exception of the tri-meet on Jan. 30, Ettl's scores on bar have improved every week, culminating with Saturday's career-high against Illinois. That nearly flawless effort is the second-highest score recorded on bars in the nation this season.
Coach Steve Shephard was equally impressed with the performance, calling Ettl's routine "tremendous." However, it still isn't even the best he has seen from her since she arrived on campus in fall 2008.
In his 18 years as coach of the Nittany Lions, Shephard has trained a number of Penn State greats such as Katie Perret, who owns the school record on bars with a 9.975, and Katie Rowland, whose name is littered in the top 10 of nearly every school record. Even so, Shephard has never seen a bar routine as skilled as Ettl's.
"She's got a world-class bar routine," Shephard said. "In terms of difficulty, it's probably the most difficult routine we've ever had anyone do at Penn State on bars, and she does it very well."
That routine, though, hasn't been part of Ettl's repertoire in nearly a half-decade. Ettl, who ranks 13th in the country on bars, has not used that routine in competition since her sophomore year of high school, which ended with a third-place finish at club nationals.
The main component of Ettl's routine is a tough variation of a release move that most of the gymnasts on the team perform. Ettl performs a "Ray" release, named after 2000 Olympian Elise Ray. As she releases, Ettl keeps her feet on the bar, adding difficulty by slowing down the timing of the spin. Ettl also keeps her toes on the bar when doing her full pirouette.
It's those skills that lead senior Alexandra Brockway to believe that Ettl has the ability to earn several postseason accolades on bars this year. Brockway was the Lions' most consistent performer on the event last year and garnered a spot on first-team All-America. Brockway sees similar recognition coming Ettl's way in the near future.
"It's definitely obvious to tell that she earns her spot," Brockway said.