As a preschooler, Madeline Huber fell off a tricycle and broke her arm. Her parents thought she might need to gain strength and coordination, so they signed her up for a gymnastics class near their home.
It eventually led to a college athletic scholarship and a connection that strengthened Huber’s Catholic faith.
“It’s funny because when my parents got married and started having kids, they agreed not to have any gymnasts,” said Huber, who has three older brothers. “My dad did gymnastics in high school and coached for a little bit in college. My mom’s sisters did gymnastics.”
But her mom told her dad that a once-a-week class wasn’t a big deal. The plan was to stop taking her once her daughter gained some strength. Of course, Huber fell in love with the sport and begged her parents to go to a bigger gym. She ended up at Team Central Gymnastics Academy.
Now Huber is finishing her senior year on the gymnastics team at the University of Missouri-Columbia, a program in the highly competitive Southeastern Conference.
“It’s such a unique sport and such a challenge in so many aspects,” Huber said. “Obviously it’s so physical, but it’s also so mental too. I love the feeling of flying. My dad, before every meet, he tells me, ‘Go fly, I love you.’ Even now, when I call him before a meet he’ll tell me it.”
With a chuckle, she added, “I love putting my body through things that probably shouldn’t be done, but, yeah, it’s a talent and I like how you’re always striving for a perfect 10 and there’s always something to improve upon. There’s never a time when you can slack off.”
At a meet earlier this year, Huber tied for first with Sarah Finnegan of Louisiana State University, a St. Louis native who was an alternate for the 2012 Olympic team and 2017 NCAA champion on the uneven bars, Huber’s favorite event. Mizzou’s team, ranked No. 19 in the nation, was set to compete April 5 in the NCAA Regional in Athens, Ga.
When Huber competed on her club team before coming to Mizzou, her relationship with God was weak, she said. “I was brought up Catholic, but it didn’t mean a lot to me. I did not have a relationship with Him. He was more of a helper to me. I would go to Him in times when I was scared of a skill and ask, ‘Can you help me?’”
After freshman year she attended the Ultimate Training Camp for college athletes. They teach five principles of the Gospel applied to sport, experienced through sport and spoken in the language of sport. “This was life-changing for me, a huge turning point in my faith journey,” Huber said.
An example of what she learned was how sport can be a platform for spreading the Gospel. “We have a voice and should not be afraid to share our faith and what we believe in,” she said.
There’s a couple other ways she and some of her teammates incorporate and demonstrate their faith — they invoke the Holy Spirit before meets, pray and engage in a conversation with God. “I talk a lot to myself out loud at meets, so I turn that into talking to Him out loud. I’ll pray that my nerves will be calmed down, things like that,” Huber said.
The gymnast learned about the Ultimate Training Camp through Athletes in Action, which has a full-time staff at Mizzou. The staff introduced themselves at the first practices of the season, explaining that to be a complete person athletes need to consider their soul as well. They explained they are a resource and invited the student-athletes to weekly meetings. “Some of my teammates and I decided to give it a try. And it has grown my faith in so many ways,” Huber said.
She was impressed because she hadn’t seen so many people her age so in love with Jesus and the idea of spreading the knowledge of Jesus. “They were just huge role models for me,” Huber said. “I just wanted to be like them.”
She’d attended Mass at the Newman Center on campus, but with a hectic schedule hadn’t been involved much until taking a leadership role with Ultimate Training Camp as a summer intern. “One of the things the camp director said to all the interns was to consider joining the staff of Athletes in Action. I didn’t feel a call to that though,” Huber said, though she felt a tug to do something faith-related.
Her schedule became a little easier to handle the next summer and she started attending daily Mass. At the Newman Center, she saw an item about FOCUS (the Fellowship of Catholic University Students).
Huber texted an acquaintance with whom she’d taken a summer Bible study who was a FOCUS missionary. They met and talked about their faith. Huber then was introduced to the rest of the FOCUS team at Mizzou and became more involved in the Newman Center.
This summer, she’ll begin training as a FOCUS missionary at Ave Maria University. In January, she’ll be placed at a college campus for a year and a half to share the love and joy of the Gospel with college students.
Huber, whose family attends St. Anselm Parish in Creve Coeur, was homeschooled in elementary school and the last year and a half of high school when she studied theology from a program called Seton Home Study.
Her degree will be in architecture. “I picked one of the most time-consuming majors and one of the most time-consuming sports. Why did I do that to myself?” Huber said good-naturedly.
She praised Mizzou for setting her on a solid foundation for the future. “I don’t even have words to describe how grateful I am for this opportunity. Ever since I was a little girl I wanted to do college gymnastics. It’s funny thinking back when I was little I would put up posters of the Mizzou gymnastics team. It’s crazy to think that I’m on it now.”
The St. Thomas More Newman Center in Columbia,
Mo., was founded in December 1963. It is a university parish of more
than 650 families and more than 1,000 students, serving the Columbia
community as well as the collegiate campuses of the University of
Missouri-Columbia, Stephens College and Columbia College.
Address: 602 Turner Ave., Columbia, MO 65201
We are called to be a living Church; a Catholic faith community on fire
with the love of Jesus Christ; passionate about what happens to
individuals; disturbed by injustice; and impatient for the kingdom of
More information: Visit www.comonewman.org.
>> Athletes in Action
Athletes in Action is an
international sports organization focused on equipping athletes, coaches
and sport-minded individuals to grow in their relationship with Jesus.
serving more than 60 countries, on over 200 college campuses, in 40
professional sport teams, and through digital resources, its goal is to
see Christ-followers on every team, in every sport, in every nation.