By: Missouri Gymnastics Student Beat Writer, Amanda Nusbaum
COLUMBIA, Mo. - Minor injuries are not uncommon for athletes, especially at the collegiate level. A few weeks on the sideline is usually the extent of the recovery time for the athlete, but the team as a whole is still able to go on with their season. For the larger injuries however, the impact is far more apparent, especially for smaller athletics programs like gymnastics.
In one such case, the 2012-2013 season for Mizzou Gymnastics saw season-ending injuries to three key competitors within a two-and-a-half week span. At each of the Tigers' first three meets, the team saw another girl go down and the journey back would be long and hard for all three involved.
The first to get hit with the injury bug was junior Rebecca Johnson, two days before the first conference meet against Alabama. A hyperextended knee after a vault landing in practice would fracture her tibia and tear her PCL, which put her on crutches for the foreseeable future. Nine days later at the meet against Florida, junior Brianna Conkle dislocated her ankle during floor warm-ups, landing her in a cast in addition to a night at a local hospital.
With two girls out for the season already, the third meet of the season a week later (Air Force Quad Meet) started off equally as grim. In the first rotation warm-ups of the evening, redshirt junior Katelyn Trevino would rupture her Achilles tendon, resulting in the need for surgery. The injury-riddled month of January came to a close for Mizzou, and the three injured gymnasts bound together to push through their own recoveries and to also support the team for the remainder of the year.
For Trevino, the injury was particularly mentally devastating. Gymnastics had been an integral part of her life since she was three years old, and the injury seemed like a setback she may not be able to come back from. The inability to help her team caused a sense of grief and frustration.
However, with the aid from her fellow injured teammates, Trevino would rebound mentally as the 2013 season progressed.
"Bri (Conkle) and Becca (Johnson) not only understood how I felt and how much it hurt not to be able to contribute to the team, but they also inspired me through their own mental strength," said Trevino. "It gave me hope for the future, which caused me to never give up, even when I may have wanted to."
Trevino would be on crutches for seven weeks after her surgery, which marks almost exactly a year ago to this day. Johnson, who was fortunate to never have had an injury prior to her 2013 incident, was on crutches for eight weeks before she was cleared to begin rehab. Even after almost a year, Conkle notes that the pain of landings has not gone away, and may not ever for that matter.
Throughout the rest of the season, especially in the height of their recoveries, the girls focused their energies on being the biggest cheerleaders for their team. Unable to go out and compete, they knew the most important thing they could do for their teammates was to show them that they were still with there to support them to the fullest.
The first thing Trevino, Johnson and Conkle would all be cleared for gymnastics-wise, starting around the beginning of the 2013 summer months, would be the uneven bars as long as they did not conduct any hard landings.
Johnson noted that bars had never been her favorite, but when it was the only thing she could do, she would spend hours upon hours practicing on them. All that time working on the event paid off early-on in the 2014 season, which culminated in an all-time gymnastics memory for the Tigers junior.
"At the Pink Out meet against Arkansas a couple weeks back, I hit a strong bar routine and stuck my dismount," said Johnson. "Katelyn (Trevino) then ran over and picked me up in a moment of sheer joy, and I felt the biggest rush of emotion. There was electricity running through my veins, and in my head it was like we are officially back."
All three girls have slowly come back into competition, and each have high hopes for the rest of the 2014 Tigers season. This past offseason, a big effort was made by first year head coach Shannon Welker and his coaching staff to bond the whole team together, which included creating smaller "families" and a big / little sister program.
Conkle in particular was incredibly enthusiastic of the special dynamic the team formed over the course of offseason workouts and team bonding activities.
"I feel really good about our team this year and the potential we have shown," proclaimed Conkle. "We have really worked on bonding as a team, and it truly feels like we are sisters."
"I think this year is going to be really special for us, and I am really excited to show our fans what each of us have been working towards!"
As the Tigers head to North Carolina State this weekend for their second road-trip of the season, the three junior gymnasts will continue their outstanding comeback from last year's injuries. While there will certainly be some setbacks and mentally difficult moments the rest of the season, all three now know they won't have to look far for support.