Collegiate gymnasts from Clark County overcome injuries

Clark County trio battle back following surgeries

By Kurt Zimmer, Columbian Sports Reporter

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Last season did not go as planned for three Clark County collegiate gymnasts.

Sacramento State University junior Kayla Wonderly competed on a limited basis for the Hornets as a sophomore last year following offseason elbow surgery.

Alyssa Click's senior season at Southern Utah University was off to a great start as she won one event and led her team in another in the season opener. A knee injury suffered in practice required surgery that resulted in a medical redshirt.

KayCee Gassaway redshirted what would have been her junior season at Brigham Young University following ankle reconstruction surgery the previous fall.

After a year of recovery, all three are back and competing again in seasons that just began.

Plans, interrupted

There are differences among their situations, starting with the circumstances of their injuries.

Vancouver's Gassaway and La Center's Wonderly, both graduates of CAM High School in Battle Ground, were injured during competitions, and Skyview High School graduate Click while training. While Click and Gassaway took redshirt seasons last year following surgery, Wonderly did not have that opportunity because Sacramento State's program does not redshirt gymnasts.

Gassaway injured her left ankle on a vault landing during a January 2012 meet at rival University of Utah, competing the rest of the season on bars but not vault before having the joint surgically repaired in October 2012.

"We had an MRI and knew it was torn, but we pretty much decided, 'Well, it will heal itself,'" she said. "I kept competing on it, but for the rest of that season, I only did bars. I took the summer off and came back that fall, and it healed itself, but it healed wrong, so we had to do surgery on it. It was the only way. They had to actually move my heel over and put a pin in it, so I sort of had ankle reconstruction surgery."

Gassaway spent the next six weeks on crutches after the procedure to repair her torn deltoid ligament on the inside of the ankle, the first two in a cast then a month wearing a boot that she was able to leave behind by the end of 2012. After a few more weeks with an ankle brace, she was able to begin training again last spring.

Wonderly initially hurt her left elbow while competing on bars in January 2011, before her collegiate career began, and continued to train and compete for more than a year before the decision was made to have surgery in May 2012. After undergoing the procedure commonly known as "Tommy John surgery" to repair the ulnar collateral ligament, she was able to return to the team on a limited basis last season. She is now back at full speed.

"It took me a lot of doctors to find out what was really wrong with my elbow," she said. "Most of them told me that having surgery would be a career-ending thing, so I had to find the right doctor who told me I could do it -- and it could work -- for me to believe it. Because for a while, it wasn't looking good."

Click suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee at practice following the first meet of the 2013 season, underwent surgery within two weeks and was granted a medical redshirt season. As a senior, she was determined not to leave the sport on those terms.

The first of a series of braces -- "It was nice and large," Click said -- started immediately, and she was on crutches for about two months until she could walk normally without them. She was able to start conditioning work again at the beginning of summer.

While Click said she does not clearly remember all of that timeline, she quickly said "Aug. 1" when asked when she was able to get back to training as a gymnast.

She is now adjusting to a competition brace she began using about a month ago.

"I'm still getting used to it, but it's pretty easy to use and put on," she said. "It's not horrible."

Click graduated with honors last May in her major of hotel, resort and hospitality management, now taking classes toward a marketing degree during her fifth year.

Rehab and return

Nobody said physical rehabilitation would be easy -- but understanding and experiencing the process are two different things.

"I knew it would take a long time, but knowing that and going through it are two different things," Gassaway said.

She was told it would be about six months before she would be able to resume gymnastics training and about another six months before she would feel like she had recovered. That timeline is very close to how getting back worked for her. She still has another procedure ahead to remove a bone spur from the ankle.

"It's one thing to get back doing it," she said. "And it's another thing to get back doing it it how you feel like you were before."

On Saturday, Gassaway was back in Salt Lake City where she was hurt two years ago and scored a personal best 9.875 on vault. She is competing in vault and bars, and hopes to get into the Cougars' floor exercise lineup.

"I wasn't worried about, 'Oh, this is where I got hurt before,' but it just made it more exciting for me," she said. "After I was done, I was like, 'Yeah, I just did that.' It made it more satisfying."

While Wonderly competed last year during her recovery, she wanted to prove that she was not able to be at her best. In her return to competition on Jan. 5 at the NorCal Classic, she scored a career-best 9.800 on beam.

"It felt amazing," Wonderly said. "It's been a long time coming. It was an amazing feeling to get that. It was a goal of mine to get a 9.8 this year, and to do it in the first meet was an incredible feeling."

Wonderly also competes on bars again, although one result of her injury is that it eliminates a particular skill she used to favor that simply puts too much strain on the elbow.

She said she is just glad to feel like fully part of the team again.

"When you're hurt, sometimes it feels like you're a little bit off to the side," she said. "That's probably a normal feeling, but it creates a sense of urgency to get back."

Click -- the Western Athletic Conference champion on bars in 2011 and 2012 -- returned to competition at the same University of Utah meet that marked Gassaway's return, scoring 9.775 on beam and 9.700 on bars. She said she misses being an all-around competitor, but the Thunderbirds are deep enough in floor and vault to keep her out of those events.

While that was certainly a good start, the butterflies returned.

"We had our first meet on Saturday, and I forgot how nervous I get before events," Click said. "I was like, 'Why did I put myself through this again? I don't like this feeling,' but as soon as I saluted and got on with the events, I was like, 'Oh, yeah. That's why. Because it's fun.' "