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‘One of the hardest decisions I have ever had to make’: Utah gymnast Hunter Dula retires

Utah gymnast Hunter Dula cheers after competing on the bars as Utah hosts Kentucky to kick off the 2020 season in the Huntsman Center at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City on Friday, Jan. 3, 2020.  
Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Momentum is a real thing in college gymnastics. Good routines lead to better routines, big scores to bigger scores. Coaches and gymnasts talk all the time about the need to “build upon scores” and there is no better example of that than the 2019 Pac-12 Gymnastics Championships.

It was just over a year ago, on March 23, inside the Maverik Center. Utah was an underdog to rival UCLA and the Utes knew they’d need to be at their best if they were to contend for the conference crown.

Contend they did — though the Red Rocks ultimately came up short — and it all started with Hunter Dula.

Then a freshman, Dula nailed her uneven bars routine early in the opening rotation of the championship meet. She earned a 9.90 for her efforts and got the ball rolling in the Red Rocks’ most successful meet that year, a competition that saw six different gymnasts record career highs.

Dula’s bar routine started it all, and signaled that she had become a legitimate contributor for Utah, one with an auspicious future in the sport.

That once promising career has come to an end.

Dula announced her retirement from gymnastics on Monday, due to medical reasons.

“The past two years at Utah have been incredibly special,” she said in an announcement. “The decision to medically retire has been one of the hardest decisions I have ever had to make, but I am looking forward to a future with less pain.”

After competing in 13 meets as a freshman — she won a starting role on bars a week into competition — Dula competed in only five meets as a sophomore, due to a back injury.

“Hunter has been battling back injuries. That was why you didn’t see her,” Utah head coach Tom Farden said. “The good thing was she got to finish out (the season) with everyone else with that Stanford meet.”

Dula finishes her career having hit a perfect 18 of 18 bar routines. She set a career-high (9.925) this year against Arizona State on Jan. 25, claiming her first career victory in the process.

“This season did not turn out the way I had hoped, but I learned so much about myself and have grown immensely as a person through all of this,” she said.

A native of Orem, Utah, with stops in Illinois, North Carolina and Texas, Dula will continue to be involved with Utah’s athletic department as she works towards her degree in kinesiology. She has also been placed on a medical scholarship.

“I want to thank my team, coaches, staff and entire support system for being there for me and easing the burden of a decision like this,” Dula said. “... I would like to thank the amazing fans. You have shown me so much love over the past two years and I’ll forever be grateful.”