Balancing act

It’s the big day. It’s what you have been training for all offseason. You head into the day not 100 percent. But, what athlete really does?

A little pain didn’t stop anyone – so on this day you get ready to compete in the all-around. The first meet of the year is always important. It sets the mood for the year. Getting off to a great start couple lead to big things for the season.

On this day, the knee was hurting just a little bit more than normal, but you were going to let your team down – not on the first day. As you start to compete, everything feels fine until you try to stick the landing. When you hit landing your knee buckles and you go down in the pain.

This is not the kind of start to a junior year that Maryvale High School gymnast Jenna Varano wanted to have. She wanted to come in to her junior year and have the type of season that would set her up for good things.

Unfortunally, it wasn’t meant to be. As she tried to stick the landing her knee gave out and she went down in a heap. At first Varano thought it just might be something that would keep her out a week or two. But, after she received the news from the doctor, reality started to set it.

“At first I was scared, but I didn’t think anything serious happened. I thought it was just a minor injury that would cause me to take a week or two off from training,” stated Varano. “Once I found out that I did tear my ACL I was in disbelief. I was also shocked because I never thought an injury like this would happen to me. It felt like my days as an athlete were over.”

What Varano will freely admit is that she wasn’t ready for what would happen next. She knew her season was over, but, she wasn’t ready to deal with the process of trying of trying recover. For every good day there was a bad.
For every success there were setbacks.

Mentally, recovering from an injury such as hers weighs on the mind more than on the body. Do get through it, Varano knew she needed to get over the hump mentality. After that, the physical recovery would take care of itself.

“I had never had a major injury like that before and wasn’t prepared for the long recovery. The rehab was definitely a challenge for me. At the beginning I was making major progress and was way ahead of my scheduled recovery but then as some would say, I hit a wall,” explained Varano. “I was still recovering just at a slower rate. I had very high hopes that I would recover in time for the 2017 track season but not making that goal made everything harder. Seeing my teammates and all my friends being able to play the sports they love is what kept me going. It showed me that it is possible to recover from this and once I do I will be right back with them.”

It took longer, however. Like Varano said she hit a wall. Not being able to compete on the track was disappointing for her. Not being able to be out there competing with her teammates was a challenge. Her recovery did take a little bit longer than most. Her doctors didn’t clear Varano for nine months.
So, almost a year later, Varano was finally cleared to do what she loves best – and that’s to be an athlete.

“It took me about nine months post-surgery for my doctor to release me for sports and once he did I waisted no time getting back in the gym,” stated Varano. “Just being able to do a simple trick was such a relief. Not many people get to experience that feeling of finally being able to go back to something they loved. It is still challenging at some points, but I just have to slowly work at it to get back to where I was. I put so much time into rehab and strength training that I felt more than ready to get back out there and compete.”

And, competing is what Varano loves do. She couldn’t wait to get back out there and go through her routines again with her teammates. Heading into the season, Varano was over the physical part of her injury.

It was still the mental part that was tough to get over. Varano knew her knee was fine. The doctor cleared her and she had been back in the gym working hard. The first day of getting back out there with everyone watching was still tough.

Varano didn’t want to replay the injury in her mind, but it’s hard not to. The first time she sticks the landing the what if’s start coming into play. What if the knee gives out again? What if all the hard work ends up for nothing?

Those are questions every athlete will ask themselves when coming back from an injury likes that one Varano had.

“At the beginning of the season I would get nervous, but not enough to make me stop and question if I should be doing this,” stated Varano. “There are occasions where I have the “what if it happens again mindset,” but I push through it. I know I am physically and mentally strong enough.”

Through all of pain and suffering, Varano has been a great leader and teammate. Named a captain last season, Varano has shown the younger girls on the team what it takes to compete. While she admits that she doesn’t take practice seriously on the time, she still is able to give words of encouragement to her teammates.

Being through the competition, Varano knows how to get the girls to not focus on the things they may have done wrong, but focus on the positives.

“This is my second year being captain and it is very rewarding to see the team coming together. We are really coming together as a family and as a team. This season our overall team points have increased per meet. Even though we range from all different ages, we still find a way to get along and support each other,” explained Varano. “I believe that taking the time to get to know the new members of the team is what makes me a good leader. By talking and listening to them helps us to form a bond with one another. I’m also willing to help any of the girls that need it. Whether it be spotting a new skill, giving advice or even a ride home, I like to see people succeed and knowing that I can help someone accomplish something important to them is very rewarding to me.”

Also, rewarding is being able to finish out your career the way you started out. Jenna Varano has been a steady influence for the gymnastics team, and for herself. She has shown that she can fight through adversity when it comes her way.

Everything she went through has given her a new appreciation of what doctors do.

“I plan to study physical therapy after high school,” stated Varano. “I was inspired by my physical therapist during my rehab. Seeing how they helped an athlete like me, inspires me to want to help a young athlete with a similar situation in the future.”