As I stood there, preparing to sprint down the runway, I worried that my knee would give out. I was afraid that competing in gymnastics after surgery would end in failure. I could feel my heart pounding in my chest as the judge raised her hand for me to go. I stepped onto the runway and saluted, took a deep breath, and sprinted towards the vault table.
When I was three years old, I jumped out of my crib and landed on my head. I was rushed to the hospital for a possible concussion. At the hospital, the doctor told my mom I had a mild concussion and that I should no longer sleep in my crib. The doctor added that putting me in a dance class or gymnastics would be a good decision.
That’s when my mom said, “Would you like to be in gymnastics, Grace? You have always been a bouncy child!”
I’d flip off the couch, bed, and anywhere else I could find. I didn’t even know what gymnastics was but I agreed to go.
My mom decided to put me in gymnastics when I was four years old. I started in the preschool level, learning the most basic moves: forward rolls, jumps, bouncing around, and learning the gym equipment. It was all fun and games. However, the coaches decided to move me up to level one.
The next levels after one prepared me for competition. They taught me all the skills I needed to know, perfecting all of it step by step. The best part was being with my amazing friends.
When I moved up to level three, everything was moving so quickly and was overwhelming. I practiced my floor routine until the music hurt to listen to. I worked on my beam routine until I wouldn’t fall off anymore. I practiced my uneven bar routine until my hands were no longer sore from calluses and blisters. I sprinted toward the vault over and over til my legs weren’t sore anymore.
When I got my competition leotard I was in awe, it was so sparkly and purple. I loved it. My first competition season was a little rough because I was new to it and nervous. It was also exciting at the same time, going to different cities around Iowa and winning medals. My team had made it to State and we were all so nervous. At the end of the season, all the hard work and tears was worth it, and I won State Vault Champion.
After the season was over, my coaches would decide who to move up to the next level. But my coach chose to keep my best friends and me in level three again. We were sad that we didn’t move up but decided to use it for the best. I practiced and worked really hard, and started to go four days a week for three hours per training session. When competition season arrived, I was prepared and knew what was coming. I scored really high and always placed. My team made it to State again and this time we were more excited and ready for it, not as nervous. I won State Vault Champion again, and my team won first place, too. My favorite part was winning the medals, but competing with my besties was definitely the thing to top it off for my best year competing.
As I progressed through the levels and skills got tougher, I started to struggle. It was 2016 when my knee started to hurt. The pain was everywhere in my right knee, yet it wasn’t. It hurt the most when I would go upstairs, jump, and especially after days with physical activity or work outs. I had been doing gymnastics for six years and I loved the sport with all my heart. Going to go to the gym with my team, being able to do flips and skills was an amazing experience. I made so many awesome memories with my friends there, I didn’t want them to stop from a knee injury.
After awhile, the ache in my knee wasn’t going away, even after constantly icing and taking ibuprofen, we decided to go to the doctor in Waterloo, Iowa. When we got to the doctor’s office, they x-rayed my knee. Afterwards, all they saw was a dark spot in my knee where there shouldn’t be one. They sent me to see a specialist in Iowa City named Dr. Bollier. When he looked at my x-ray and sent me for an MRI, he saw two centimeters of dead bone in my knee.
Then he said, “The scientific name for this is an osteochondral defect and it refers to a specific area of damage on both the cartilage and a piece of underlying bone. This defect can occur from an acute traumatic injury to the knee or an underlying disorder of the bone.” He explained that my defect was a traumatic injury caused by constantly pounding my knee at gymnastics.
Dr. Bollier said, “Let’s put you on crutches for 12 weeks to see if this will heal itself.” At this point I didn’t really know what to think. Everything just happened so quickly, I was so confused. I was scared of what could happen. What upset me the most was missing out on my entire competition season. I didn’t want to be out of the gym at all. The crutches were difficult to use and it was the longest three months of my life. After the 12 weeks were up, we went back to the doctor in Iowa City. I was hoping that I could go back to the gym.
“After viewing your MRI, there is a small amount of healing that has started. Now it’s time to get you back into the gym to see how your knee responds,” said Dr. Bollier.
I was happy thinking it would heal and be over soon. So I could be back in the gym doing what I loved. Though my hope didn’t last long. By February, the pain was back. But I tried to push through. I didn’t want to keep having this problem. I was frustrated at the fact that it wouldn’t go away. I wanted to give up.
Again, I went back to Iowa City and the news wasn’t good. Dr. Bollier said the next option would be surgery if I wanted the pain to go away. He explained that he could drill two holes in my knee which would make it bleed. That bleeding would begin to form a new bone and my knee would heal. I was worried that the surgery wouldn’t work, but I had no other choice. I needed to compete one last season. My parents were upset, worried, and sad that this situation was happening. My parents decided to schedule surgery for May 23, 2018, right at the end of the school year.
Then, I had surgery. I was scared as they put me in a hospital gown and placed an IV in my arm. I remember walking to my surgery room and the doctor with me kept telling dad jokes. When I walked into the surgery room, there were multiple doctors staring at me. I was scared at first but a nice doctor talked to me and calmed me down. I don’t remember much after that until I woke up. I didn’t feel much at that point. The drive home was uncomfortable but they gave me a knee wrap that iced my knee and turned itself off and on.
The next few weeks were pretty boring and not much happened. I was in constant pain from my knee surgery, but thankfully my friends came to cheer me up. Some gave me cards, which was really nice. Family members visited that I hadn’t seen in a while. However, it didn’t occur to me that my friends were going to do fun summer activities without me. I was devastated.
When they took out the stitches, it was the weirdest sensation ever, pretty gross. A little over one month after surgery I was able to walk with one crutch. At last I was able to walk without the crutches and I was so happy I could finally get back to the gym and start to do small work outs. I was the happiest I had been in a long time.
At this point my family and I went back to see my doctor in Iowa City for a surgery follow up. Dr. Bollier told us that my knee looked good and I could move on to physical therapy. He reminded me how my injury happened and that it would happen again if I didn’t make changes.
“This kind of injury happens because of repeated pounding on your knees. You can compete one more season and do fine. However, if you keep training as you have been, you will most likely have this condition in your other knee. The best thing to do would be to train for a variety of sports so your knee has down time between seasons.”
A couple weeks later I started physical therapy, I didn’t like going there. At first it was easy and the sessions were going well. Things then got difficult and I had to do little workouts at home everyday to strengthen my knee.Honestly, I had little to no motivation and I was bad at remembering to do my workouts. The next few weeks I tried hard to strengthen my knee. I had already learned my routine from the past year, that part wasn’t hard. It was gaining strength, improving skills and trying not to hurt my knee that was difficult.
Quick enough, my first competition was coming up.
“Are you sure you are ready to compete? You could sit out the first meet if you need to,” said Coach.
I was scared, but I had been practicing for a few months and was the best I was going to be for that time. My goal was to compete one more season and qualify for State. I struggled at first because I was scared of landing on my knee.
Coach said, “You have to find your confidence and do what you know how to do. Stop overthinking.” She was right.
It was time for my first competition. My first event was vault. To me vault was very intense and I had to remember a lot. Point your toes, tight body, tight arms, get your footing right, stick the landing, as well as worrying about my knee giving out. I had to wait for my other teammates to go first, and anxiety was building up inside of me. Right before it was my turn I stretched and knew there was no turning back. Heart pounding, I saluted to the judges, and began to sprint towards the vault table. I landed my vault and felt so relieved.
By my third meet, I was competing in all four events and had qualified for State! I accomplished my goal. The next few competitions went pretty well. At State, I earned at least a 9.000 in all four events. It was an amazing way to finish my season!
Now it was time to make a decision. I knew that for my health, I had to leave gymnastics. My mom and I both cried. My coach was very understanding having had knee problems herself. I knew that I would always have my gym friends and memories.
Almost two years later, I have joined volleyball, basketball and track. I’m an athlete and I’m not going to let my knee hold me back. It still hurts occasionally, but I think it always will. I just push through and ice when needed. To this day, I still talk to my gym friends and we hang out. Those years of hard work and amazing memories in gymnastics will always be in my heart. I just have to keep moving forward
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