Click on the play button above to find out how one young gymnast is working to recover from an injury so she can return to the sport she loves and how one coach and parent are working to prevent injuries in other gymnasts.
Audio Transcript: SCRIPT
Anna Azallion SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC News) — In the aftermath of the scandal involving the former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar, many are talking about gymnastics at the national level. At the local level there’s a different focus: injury prevention.
Coaches like Candy Jenkins at CNY Gym Centre just outside of Syracuse, N.Y., are constantly working to keep their athletes healthy and injury-free.
Jenkins says the most common injuries she sees in her young athletes are broken ankles and dislocated elbows that require surgery.
One of her athletes is 13-year-old Julia Cumber, an upper level gymnast who recently fractured her ankle when preparing for an upcoming competition.
“There was a meet coming up in a like a week and I was just doing my routine and I was on to doing double backs and I opened up a little bit early and I landed a little bit short and a little bit to the side,” Cumber said.
That’s how she went from preparing for a meet to getting surgery. She says she had to have three screws put into her ankle.
Cumber had to spend two weeks away from the gym because of her injury. She came back the same day the doctor put a cast on her ankle and said she was excited.
“Even if I just got to do a little bit, a few pull-ups, a few chin-ups, just some simple stuff,” Cumber said.
Cumber couldn’t practice with the other girls on her team, but she still wanted to come to practice and do whatever she could.
“Coming into the gym I’ve never thought ah I don’t want to be here or that like I have to be here. It’s always something I love to do, I look forward to it every day after school, it’s just so exciting,” she said.
The kind of work ethic Cumber showed by coming to practice even when she was injured is something Jenkins says she has to teach many gymnasts.
“80% of kids you have to teach a work ethic. Some kids just have it but it’s not a lot of them. Like that little girl you just interviewed, she has that work ethic. She’ll never stop working and trying to improve, go off by herself and work,” Jenkins said.
Injuries are not uncommon at CNY Gym Centre, but Jenkins says many of them can be prevented. She says as a coach, she does a lot to help with prevention.
“The thing that I do the most is keep a very disciplined workout and I’m very stern because it’s for their safety and you just watch everything,” She said.
That’s exactly what Jenkins did at one Tuesday night practice. As each girl performed her routine, Jenkins was on the side or even on the floor watching and giving feedback.
Jenkins doesn’t stop there though. She says there’s something even more important when it comes to injury prevention.
“Not letting them goof around. Sometimes we have really stupid injuries and they know I’m gonna be mad, mad, mad they’ll be playing on the equipment before there’s a coach on the floor and somebody gets hurt and they better run from me.”
According to the website Nationwide Children’s, sports injuries are one of the top reasons for ER visits.
Jen Horenziak is not only a former gymnast and mother of two young gymnasts, she also judges gymnastics in Cincinnati, Ohio. She says she always working to keep her kids as injury free as possible.
“We spend a lot of time on how to be healthy in the sport mentally, physically, sleeping, eating, doing all the right things that they need to do to be as safe as possible,” Horenziak said.
Horenziak retired from gymnastics nearly 20 years ago, but she still remembers one night in high school when she sustained the biggest injury of her career.
“I was doing balance beam routines and you had to stick six in a row and I was on my sixth of the night and I did not want to fall and start over and so I went really really hard for my last skill which is called a round-off double back and my foot slipped off the beam and I landed on my head and fractured my cervical vertebrae,” she said.
After a full recovery, the injury is more than just a memory for Horenziak. She said she doesn’t feel any effects today, but the injury shaped the rest of her career.
“I was never quite as confident after the injury and there were skills that scared me after the injury and they weren’t necessarily even the skill that I got injured on, I just had more of a sense that I was fragile,” she said.
Horenziak went on to compete for four more years. At the time of her injury, she was competing among the most elite athletes in the sport, including gymnasts who would go on to compete in the Olympics. After her recovery though, she stepped down to a lower level and went on to compete for Stanford University.
Horenziak said she hadn’t originally planned for her kids to be gymnasts.
“I was hoping my kids would be volleyball players and they’re not,” she said.
Despite her original feelings, Horenziak said her kids, an 11-year old boy and a 14-year old girl, fell in love with gymnastics.
Back at CNY Gym Centre, Coach Candy Jenkins says 13-year-old Julia Cumber has the same drive.
When she’s healthy, Cumber is at the gym 5 days a week for 4 to 5 hours each day. Despite the roughly 20 hour commitment, she’s involved in other activities too.
“Like a lot of clubs and I play the clarinet and I’m in band, just a lot of school involved stuff,” Cumber said.
Cumber is just one example of the driven personality Jenkins talked about.
“Children who fall in love with gymnastics are very very driven and they’re driven in school as well, it’s just a different kind of personality,” Jenkins said.
That personality can be seen at each practice at CNY Gym Centre. At one practice the week before a meet, the girls split into groups and rotated through their events — bars, beam, vault, and floor.
At a meet, only one girl does her floor routine at a time. At practice, though, while one girl performs her routine start to finish, all the other girls are on the side practicing different skills.
That hard work and dedication to the sport resulted in several of CNY Gym Centre’s teams placing in the top three at their meet.