Dean Musser thought he might lose his daughter.
It was the fourth night of Sharaya Musser's stay in the hospital with a staph infection, which the family was told came with about an 80 percent fatality rate. The then-16 year old's lungs were filling up with fluid, and for about four hours, doctors worked to stabilize her breathing.
"It looked pretty much like we were gonna lose her at that point," Dean, Sharaya's father said. "It was just wait and see, wait and see, and it seemed like the whole earth kind of came to a standstill at that point when you're thinking you could lose a child. It's one of the worst things to ever go through."
Though Sharaya doesn't remember much from her stay in the hospital, which lasted about 10 days, she vividly remembers that night.
"I just was like laying in my bed, and I could barely see," she said. "My vision was very blurry and stuff, but I just saw my whole room was filled with doctors and nurses and my dad was right beside me and my family."
Fast forward to today.
A little more than three years later, things are looking much better for Sharaya. A freshman standout on the Penn State women's gymnastics team, she is one of two Nittany Lions representing Penn State as an individual in the NCAA Championships, which begin today in Gainesville, Fla.
Born to be a Penn Stater
There was never any doubt that Sharaya Musser was going to be a Nittany Lion.
Though she had her pick from a handful of the top gymnastics programs in the nation, she never considered going anywhere other than Happy Valley
Dean Musser attended Penn State, as did Sharaya's uncle, Duane, who was on the wrestling team in the '80s. From a very young age, sporting Penn State sweatshirts and watching Penn State football games was common for Sharaya and her six siblings in their Brentwood, Tenn., home.
"It's kind of a big family school," Dean Musser said. "It was pretty engrained in [Sharaya], so I think she definitely had her hopes set on it."
Sharaya began gymnastics at age 3 when her parents put their four oldest daughters in a recreational gymnastics class. What started as merely a fun activity, grew to something more for the four sisters.
When Sharaya was nine, the Mussers moved to Colorado Springs, Colo., so their daughters could compete at Colorado Aerials and attempt to perform at the Elite level, the highest level in club gymnastics.
Sharaya and Alecia Musser, who is a year-and-a-half younger, were the only two sisters who made it to the Elite level, and the duo was in the mix to compete for spots on the 2008 Beijing Olympics team. The sisters made multiple trips to legendary gymnastics coach Bela Karolyi's camp at his ranch outside of Houston and trained with U.S. Olympian Nastia Liukin and other gymnasts on the national team.
Though Sharaya said she knew she had merely a distant chance to qualify as one of six gymnasts to represent the nation, she believes the sisters would have had a shot to at least make the Olympic trials.
However, in the fall of 2007, Alecia gave up gymnastics because of a back injury, and unforeseen circumstances steered Sharaya's gymnastics career away from the desired Olympic path.
Brush with Death
The morning after her 16th birthday, Sharaya woke up not feeling well to say the least. A couple of days later, she went to Penrose-Saint Francis Hospital. She had contracted Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), a life-threatening staph infection that eats away at the organs and can damage the heart valves once it is in the bloodstream.
Doctors thought the bacteria from the mats at the gym got into Sharaya's body through rips in her hands from performing on the uneven bars.
"I didn't know what MRSA was," she said. "Since it was such a serious matter, the doctor told my mom, 'Don't go home and look this up on the computer 'cause you're gonna freak.'
"And during the whole time I was in the hospital, I didn't have any idea what was going on."
If the Mussers had waited any longer to take their daughter to the emergency room, she might not have made it, Sharaya said.
"It was like she was hours away from dying," Dean Musser said. "We feel like God healed her. The doctor said he doesn't know how she survived other than it was a miracle, and that she was in perfect shape as an Elite gymnast at 16."
After 10 days and what Dean Musser called a "miracle" recovery, Sharaya was released from the hospital. However, she still had to take an antibiotic through an IV twice a day for five weeks. The Mussers thought their daughter's gymnastics career was almost certainly finished.
Sharaya had different plans.
"I realized what I really do love," she said. "Even just the two weeks in the hospital or whatever, I missed the gym that much that I just wanted to get back in there. It just really showed me my love and passion for the sport."
Once back at home, Sharaya said it took about a week to regain enough muscle strength to just walk without assistance. She basically had to start over with gymnastics, she said.
Nonetheless, with a tube inserted into her body, she was back competing just weeks later. Even with watered-down skills, she did well enough at the Colorado state meet to qualify for regionals, and from there she qualified for Junior Olympic Nationals, where she placed sixth in the all-around.
In the fall of 2007, following the Junior Olympic Nationals, Sharaya had a minor recurrence of MRSA. She had continued training 36 hours per week at the Elite level even after her initial incident left her with a weakened immune system and shrunken lungs.
Sharaya and her coaches decided it would be best for her health if she moved down to Level 10 permanently and started focusing on a college scholarship, or in her case, a Penn State scholarship.
"I didn't wanna go anywhere else," Sharaya said with a smile.
A Prized Recruit
Penn State coach Steve Shephard remembers a phone call he got from Travis Doak. The former Lions assistant coach, now an assistant at West Virginia, had just flown down to Colorado Springs to watch Sharaya compete.
"He was like drooling in the phone," Shephard said. "He was like, 'This kid is so good, oh my God if we get her.' I was like, 'we'll get her, we'll get her.' I knew we had her."
Shephard had the advantage over some of the nation's top gymnastics programs such as UCLA, Utah and Oklahoma, because of one thing: The Musser family bleeds blue and white.
Shephard was told by coaches around the nation how lucky he was Sharaya wanted to attend Penn State. All the talk at Junior Olympic Nationals that year surrounded her, he said.
Dean Musser said at one point he was told his daughter was the No. 2 recruit in the country. None of that really mattered, though, as she was so set on coming to Happy Valley, she even canceled some of her recruiting visits.
"Obviously we could have screwed it up if we had not played our cards right," Shephard said. "But she was born and raised to be a Penn Stater."
The gymnast arrived on Penn State's campus in the fall of 2009, joining a Lions' squad fresh off an appearance at nationals. Sharaya hoped to make an immediate impact and help her squad not only get to nationals, but make the Super Six.
The MRSA left a lasting effect on Sharaya, including lungs that may never revert back to their original size. The most noticeable thing for the gymnast is her endurance in her floor exercise -- she sometimes finds it hard to breathe.
"All this year, when I saw her get run down and she looked tired, I would be like, 'Why don't you take a day off, let's take a day off,' " Shephard said.
Sharaya also fractured a toe on her left foot in the preseason, which hindered the freshman's ability to compete in the floor exercise at the start of the season. However, the setback did not stop her from contributing immediately -- she was a consistent contributor in the vault, uneven parallel bars and balance beam.
However, after All-American sophomore Whitney Bencsko suffered a season-ending knee injury in the Feb. 27 meet at Ohio State, Sharaya knew she had to step up.
And that is exactly what she did.
With her parents in attendance for the only time this season, Sharaya shined. It was only her third all-around performance of 2010, but it didn't show. Not only did she score better than her senior teammate Brandi Personett -- the 2009 and 2010 Big Ten Gymnast of the Year -- but her score of 39.600 set a Penn State freshman record. And she didn't do this during just any normal meet, but in an upset victory against rival Michigan at Rec Hall.
"I think from the day she stepped into this gym we all knew she was going to be a major contributor, and we've all known that she's extremely talented," Bencsko said. "I don't think any other freshman has ever been so talented."
A few weeks later at the conference championships, Sharaya became just the third-ever Lion gymnast to be named Big Ten Freshman of the Year. She was also named to the conference's first team, finishing the season second in the Big Ten in vault and tied for second on the balance beam.
"[Sharaya] is so talented," senior Casey Rohrbaugh said. "She's a very, very gifted gymnast. It's easy for her. She's clean. Her technique is technically perfect. She is just an all-around classy, poised gymnast. She has the gracefulness, but she also has the power. The combination is just unbelievable."
Two weeks removed from her conference accolade, Sharaya and the rest of the Lions failed to finish in the top two at NCAA Regionals and qualify for nationals as a team for the second consecutive year. Though the Lions fell short in the April 10 meet at Rec Hall, Sharaya placed second in the all-around behind Personett, and along with her senior teammate, qualified for today's national competition as an individual competitor in the all-around.
"Sharaya's been a stronghold for the team," Personett said. "She has had some really good performances, and she's come out in the clutch when we really needed her to."
No matter how the freshman performs at nationals, she said the meet will help prepare her for next season. Shephard said Sharaya will probably be his top all-around competitor next season.
"It's a privilege to go to nationals," Sharaya said. "So I'm excited, and I'm just working hard getting ready for it."
Looking back on Sharaya's 2007 near-death experience, the Mussers said they are just thrilled to have Sharaya alive and healthy, not to mention competing collegiate gymnastics.
"We're just so blessed that she's been able to come back," Dean Musser said. "We just feel like it's her God-given talent, and that she's trying to use that for what she's supposed to do, and to be a leader, and to help others. And that's kind of what we feel is meant to be."