Nearly a quarter-century has passed since Penn Manor alum Darin Gerlach last competed in gymnastics. In that time, Gerlach has been dealing with the toll the sport took on his body earlier in life.
“I’ve had three additional meniscus surgeries,” he said. “It’s a function of gymnastics and probably the miles I put in when I took up running after gymnastics.”
Gerlach, 45, accepts the consequences. They’re what came from several accomplishments in the sport, including the 1998 NCAA championship in the floor exercise when he was a Temple senior. His gymnastics career will soon gain another level of accomplishment when Gerlach is inducted into the Temple Athletics Hall of Fame on Oct. 1.
The induction will put a bow on a journey that began on a Washington Boro farm, where Gerlach grew up learning to hold his own among three brothers. It’s also where he learned a blue-collar work ethic from his father, Darold, a McCaskey alum and former Red Tornado soccer player and wrestler in the 1960s.
“My father worked for PPL his entire life,” Gerlach said. “He was a lineman. We had six acres between the house and the farmland.”
The Gerlachs grew tobacco, sweet corn and wheat on the farm, but the crops were grown to supplement the family income.
“My father, between working full-time and then coming home and farming," Gerlach said. "He really instilled that work ethic into me.”
One day in his youth, Gerlach was doing cartwheels in the house and knocked over a TV. The incident led his parents to sign him up for gymnastics classes. Later, in May 1993 as a high school junior, Gerlach placed third in the nation in the high bar and 26th overall in the Boys Junior Olympics National Championship. He returned there as a high school senior in 1994 but didn’t place due to some nagging wrist injuries.
Recruited by Temple, Kent State, UMass, Pitt and Penn State, Gerlach settled on becoming an Owl due to the factors of in-state tuition and his desire to study mechanical engineering.
His next four years at Temple could fill a medical journal: wrist surgery heading into his college freshman season, back injury during his sophomore season after missing a release move on the high bar, another wrist surgery before his junior year, and a knee surgery before his senior year.
Regardless, the accolades kept coming for Gerlach. He earned an All-American nod as a freshman. He won the the Eastern Intercollegiate Gymnastics League Championship in the floor exercise as a sophomore. He was an NCAA East Regional qualifier as a junior. He capped his career with the NCAA championship in the floor exercise as a senior.
“The day I won is the day I retired,” he said. “I had already made plans to go on to grad school. While I was good at some events, I was more of a realist in that I knew I was not going to make the Olympic team. I know what those guys go through. I was prepared to move on with my life.”
An All-Academic selection all four years at Temple, Gerlach went on to earn a master’s degree in biomedical engineering at Kentucky.
While he visits his parents in Washington Boro a few times a year, Gerlach has spent the last couple decades living in Memphis, Tennessee, where he works as a director of program management at MicroPort Orthopedics. After college, he coached club gymnastics through 2010, and now stays active by competing in triathlons.
Asked what gymnastics taught him that has helped him face trials in his adult life, Gerlach noted time management, a drive to be the best you can be and fighting for what you believe in. The latter Gerlach did in when Temple was considering dropping gymnastics in the mid-1990s — Temple dropped men’s gymnastics in 2014.
“Looking back on it,” Gerlach said. “I’m very grateful for Temple athletics in affording me the opportunity to compete. Just giving me that experience. This (Hall of Fame) recognition for me. ...there are a lot of great athletes and gymnasts who have come through that program. I guess I’m humbled but thankful to have been a part of it.”