Tuck everlasting: one sophomore’s struggle to overcome her injury and get back on the mat

April 10, 2014


Photo Credit: Struble Family

Performing her floor routine, Sydney Struble competes in a competition prior to her injury.

GLEN ROCK, N.J. – Eleven years of hard work all led up to the injury that could derail her gymnastics career.

Sydney Jade Struble (’16) started her gymnastics career when she was four years old, training at Dora’s Gymnastics in Hillsdale, New Jersey. It was after she watched her family-friend in action, flipping and spinning like Sydney would one day learn to do, that she ventured to the gym herself.

At the time, she was unaware that that day would be the beginning of a long gymnastics career.

“I had a family friend who was a few years older and she took gymnastic classes there,” Struble recalled. “She wanted me to come and watch one day. I watched and I thought it looked fun, and then my mom suggested that I start lessons.”

Taking her first steps into the gym, a wide-eyed four year old looks around. She sees older gymnasts practicing their routines: front tucks, back tucks, cartwheels, round-offs… Sydney became inspired.

Poised here on top of the parallel bars, Struble is a high-level gymnast at sixteen years old.
Poised here on top of the parallel bars, Struble is already a high-level gymnast at sixteen years old. (Photo Credit: Struble Family)

“Seeing what they [did] was interesting,” she said. “It made me want to do that and want to be like them.”

Sydney walked into her first lesson, excited to begin her gymnastic career, and looking forward to learn and become like those gymnasts she had seen when she walked in.

“I tried it, I loved it, and I kept doing it.”

After regularly going to lessons and growing more and more passionate about the sport, Struble’s coaches noticed something special that separated her from the others in her age group.

“They thought that I was pretty much the best in the class,” Struble said. “They could tell that I was getting it more and more and doing it a little better than the other girls. They wanted me to keep doing it, and they put me into the advanced classes to develop my skills.”

This gave her the confidence to start competing on a more serious level.

The young gymnast’s first competition occurred when she was just seven years old, during the 2004-2005 season.  She was in second grade. The competition took place at ENA Gymnastics in Paramus, the gym Sydney had switched to three years after starting at Dora’s.

Preparing for her first competition ever, many emotions flooded Struble as she prepared to begin.

“I was very nervous; I always get nervous for competitions,” she admitted.

“But your adrenaline’s going a lot. You’re excited but really nervous, too. I was one of the youngest in the competition, and I remember going first on beam… I was the first one to go, and my first event was beam, which is typically the scariest for people competing – at least for me,” Sydney recalled.

The first meet went badly – she fell on bars, on her dismount, and performed poorly in the vault.

“I got a 28 [out of 40] all around,” she said, adding that she had placed on her floor routine.

Struble didn’t let this setback diminish her hope for the future. She still believed in herself and in her gymnastic abilities.

“I think because I was so young, I didn’t really understand that much. And the highest you can get all around is a 40, a 10 for each event, and getting a 28 is really bad. I got a 5 on beam, a 6 on bars, but I wanted to keep going,” Struble said.

She used this setback as motivation to do better in the future. She continued to work hard and improve so she would never have to see a score like a 28 again.

“I think I probably started to become serious about gymnastics … when I started competing for USAG and the regular teams. Once I started doing it, even though I did [badly] those first few meets, I think that’s when I got serious,” Struble said.

I get so nervous before I compete, more nervous than anything else.

— Sydney Struble

She continued to attend classes every week and build up her strength and regularly competed in competitions, beginning to slowly improve over a three-year span. She came closer to that first place position until, finally, the Acorn Cup.

“It was the level four meet,” she recalled, “when I was 7.”

Level four is defined by a certain range of skills, demonstrated by performing certain techniques successfully.

The meet was at the beginning of the season. Sydney had just switched from Dora’s to ENA Paramus, where she began to develop into a better gymnast.

Her most nerve-wracking event -- the beam -- does not stop Struble from being graceful, as she launches here toward dismount.
Her most nerve-wracking event — the beam — does not stop Struble from being graceful, as she launches here toward dismount. (Photo Credit: Struble Family)

“I get so nervous before I compete, more nervous than anything else,” said Sydney. “I shake a lot, especially on beam. I always have to move around, I can’t stay still. I have to try to keep my mind off it, but I can’t really so I just have to try and push through.”

Finally the time came to compete. Sydney competed in the usual four events: beam, bars, floor, and vault.

As a novice in the competitive world of gymnastics, Sydney gave it her all and was not expecting outstanding results.

“It wasn’t my best competition, but it was my favorite because it was the first time that I got first on everything.”

This competition still stands out to her – nine years and eighty competitions later –as a “breakthrough point,” one in which she placed first in every event. She was only seven years old.

After competing so many times, one may think that, eventually, the routine competition would begin to become mundane and lose its excitement.

“Sometimes I wish I didn’t have a competition this weekend,” Struble began. “But once you’re there, and you win… it’s all worth it.”

Said like a true athlete, there’s nothing more rewarding than grasping that first place title. As Struble said to The Glen Echo, the best parts of competition were showing her hard work and “winning – definitely winning.”

The present

Today, one can find Struble at Aeon Fitness and Gymnastics in Hillsdale, New Jersey.

She has switched gyms quite a few times, starting at Dora’s when she was four to when she was seven.

At ENA Paramus, Struble competed one year on level four, two years on level five, and was working level six when she switched, midseason, to JOGA (Jersey Optional Gymnastics Association) where she did one year of level C when she was ten.

Struble moved to ENA Pompton until she was thirteen where she did one year of JOGA level two, and then moved to USAIGC and did one year of silver.

Finally, after migrating from gym to gym, she left ENA Pompton at thirteen and moved to Aeon where she currently practices.

Struble currently competes on the USAG team and is on level nine.

Being a gymnast, Sydney gets the chance to compete in many different events, but she doesn’t favor a certain event.

“It depends on the day; I don’t really have an all-time favorite. It depends on what I’m doing and if I’m having a good day on that event. I do like all of them though,” said Sydney.

But she definitely has a least favorite.

Struble faces her nerves on top of the beam.
Struble faces her nerves on top of the beam. (Photo Credit: Struble Family)

“At a competition, my least favorite event is definitely beam because I get the most nervous for that,” said the gymnast.

Competing at the level she does, it takes a lot of time and effort to keep up her strength and skills. Sydney practices five days a week, Monday through Thursday from five-nine, and Fridays from four-nine. Overall, that’s 21 additional hours a week – on top of an already grueling schedule at Glen Rock high school.

This commitment often means it’s hard to complete her school work. “I try to get my work done in school. If not, I’ll do it a little bit before practice and before I have to leave at 4:30. And if I do end up having to do some after… I’ll do it after,” Struble said.

The injury

At a normal Friday practice on January 3rd, 2014, Sydney Struble and some of her fellow gymnasts stayed late for their routine skill work.

“It was after practice, for people who work hard to practice their extra skills, which we do every Friday, We were doing vault for a little bit, and we were just doing a drill where you run and just hurdle – jump onto the board and then flip into the pit,” Struble said, the memory of the event still fresh.

You know that feeling where something hurts so bad that you can’t even feel it and you almost can’t breathe? It was like that.

— Sydney Struble

What she didn’t know was that, in between the board and the pit (filled with foam), there was a gray cement block.

“I went to jump on the board, but I missed the board,” she said. “My ankles went in and collapsed.”

What started as a normal drill, turned out to be one of the most painful experiences of her life.

“You know that feeling where something hurts so bad that you can’t even feel it and you almost can’t breathe? It was like that.”

Trying to be as calm as possible, Sydney Struble sat in the foam pit where she had landed and tried to maneuver her way out, ignoring the pain. She repeatedly pleaded, “No I’m fine I’m fine.”

She tried to remain tough, but the pain got to be too much.

“They put a paddle mat in the pit and had me sit there, and then they brought me to the side,” Struble said. “That’s when I realized that this really, really hurt.”

After sitting on the sidelines for about half an hour, Sydney’s parents arrived on the scene and immediately brought her to the hospital where she was treated with ice.

But the sprain turned out to have a whole lot more to it.

“Both of my ankles were sprained and the left one was torn. The outside part of the right one was sprained, and the same part on the left one was sprained, but the upper part of my left ankle was torn,” said Struble, remembering vividly the injury which sidelined her gymnastic career.

Sydney was on crutches for a month, struggling to get around with the ground covered in ice and snow. The newly injured gymnast also had to sit out from practice for ten weeks,

Now, she is starting to get back into the swing of things.

Although injured, Struble has begun to perform the bars event as she recovers from her accident.
Although injured, Struble has begun to perform the bars event as she recovers from her accident. Here, she performs prior to her injury. (Photo Credit: Struble Family)

“I’m not back at practice fully. I’ve been doing bars, but I can’t really land dismounts so I go to my back. I can’t do beam because it’s a lot of hard pounding. No vault,” Struble said.

After being out for such a long time, one would think that it would take time to redevelop certain skills and fully regain her strength. Sydney’s an exception.

“Because I was on crutches for a month and couldn’t really do anything, I just did some strength [training]. I wasn’t too sore [going back] because I kept up with my stretching and strength,” Struble said.

Normally, in a situation like this one, where an overworked and tired athlete gets injured and gets the opportunity to take some time off and rest, they’d jump at it. However, Sydney’s no ordinary athlete.

Her gymnastics coach, Kristin Jacquemot, described “hardworking,” working to overcome an injury that could’ve derailed her career.

Jacquemot said “that it will be hard to get some of her skills back” but not impossible.

“Some will come easier than others,” she continued. “I think in a few weeks she will be able to get fully back into it.”

Jacquemot has had to modify Struble’s training regimens, as well.

“I’m just solely doing stuff that doesn’t hurt [my ankles] too bad, but I have a feeling it still might be a while, because it’s been ten weeks and it still hurts. It makes me very upset.”

Struble attends a weekly acupuncture session before practice every Wednesday to help heal her ankles. Dr. Larry Grogan in Franklin Lakes treats her ankles and her shins (because of shin splints, an unrelated injury).

“I don’t really know how it works and how it helps exactly, but it does. It works. Almost every time I fall asleep because it feels so good and it’s so relaxing,” said Sydney.

In the Future

Today, after starting gymnastics as a four-year-old girl at Dora’s, Sydney is now taking classes at Aeon Fitness and Gymnastics on Patterson Street, in the same spot where Dora’s once was.

But because of her recent injury, the events Sydney Struble can participate in are limited to bars – and only bars.

“Well I’m doing a competition in April and I’m doing bars and probably nothing else. But at least I’ll get to do bars,” Struble said.

A floor routine, seen here in one of Struble's previous competitions, is just one of the events she hopes to coach later in life.
A floor routine, seen here in one of Struble’s previous competitions, is just one of the events she hopes to coach later in life. (Photo Credit: Struble Family)

As for gymnastics in college, it is a path Struble would like to pursue.

“I would like to, maybe, do it in college, not necessarily… it would be nice to get a scholarship, but if not they still have things in college where, if you don’t get a scholarship, you can still do gymnastics, just not as competitive.”

And after college?

“I definitely want to coach,” she said. “I mean it would be nice to own a gym, but that’s not my priority. I definitely want to coach though, high level, cool stuff.”

If gymnastics don’t work out, though, Struble still has her own path in life.

“I would like to become a therapist. A substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselor; one that deals with drugs and alcohol, eating disorders, and stuff like that,” Struble said.

I’m very proud of her, and I know that she will do great in the future.

— Ryan Struble, Sydney's brother

But with such a promising future, who know what she’ll do. Her coach wants to see her continue exploring her gymnastic abilities.

“I hope she does it in college because she is a very talented gymnast,” said Jacquemot.

Her brother Ryan, also hopes she will continue her gymnastics career.

“She loves it,” he said. “I’m very proud of her, and I know that she will do great in the future.”

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