Victoria Rodriguez spends her weekends in the gym while her school-friends spend theirs shopping, going to parties, attending football games, and just having fun. However, she learned not to care as she fell in love with gymnastics, even when it was not the most kind to her.
Rodriguez, or as her friends more simply call her, Tori, is a freshman here at MTHS. She is a level 9 gymnast working her way back to the mats after an injury to her arm. She works hard day and night with a team that is always by her side and coaches that never doubt her abilities.
Rodriguez enrolled in gymnastics classes when she was three, and began competing when she was seven. She has attended the Head Over Heels gymnastics studio in Sayreville, New Jersey her whole life. Rodriguez began by attending classes three days a week. She worked hard during those three hours every night until she turned 10. Then she began going Monday through Thursday from 4 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. and Saturdays from 8 a.m. until 1 p.m., training rigorously.
Rodriguez says, “Gymnastics was always tough and it is something you are either in or out of. You cannot be both; you have to be committed. I would practice and I would not always love it because I would have to miss parties and football games. But at my first competition with my team, I did so well, first and second on everything, and from there I knew this was something I wanted to do. I want to compete [from] now to college; I want to be with this team. Even if I do not always win or cannot go everywhere, I just fell in love with it.”
Every weekend included attending practice or competing at meets for Rodriguez and her team. They attended different meets based on what level they were in. In the USA Gymnastics league, levels begin at two and go up to 10. After level 10 is elite.
A gymnast begins with the level her coach believes she belongs in, and after each season, the coach can advance her. Once a gymnast reaches level 10, she remains there until she goes to college or starts training as an elite. Typically, gymnasts who have reached the elite level are homeschooled and attend monthly camps. These are the types of gymnasts that, in some cases, go to the Olympics
Scoring at meets is from 0.0 to 10.0. The routines have skill requirements based on the level for each event. If the gymnast completes all of the requirements, the scoring starts at 10. From there, the judges deduct points for missteps like a bent leg, unpointed toe, falling, landing, and more. Scoring is individual for each member of the team.
Despite competing separately, Rodriguez enjoys being apart of a team: “I love that gymnastics incorporates a team because it is the best. I would consider my team as sisters because [they] really are a family. We are together every day from after school to late at night, and from early in the morning to late afternoon. We have bonded so well that it is like we cannot be mad at each other. At the end of the day, we are a team and if we annoy each other, we have to get over it. I know that I can tell them anything and that they will be there for me in and out of practice. It is truly so amazing how I ended up so lucky with this group of girls. At meets, we are the loudest team cheering each other on, and it really impacts you.”
Even if a gymnast is fully prepared and has the best team and set of coaches, injuries are inevitable. Rodriguez was not an exception.
She said, “In 2016, I was competing in Florida. I started having pains in my arm. When we flew back [to New Jersey], I was in so much pain at practice. I told my coach and she said it was probably just muscle pain. I then kept quiet until I could not take it anymore. I could not do a handstand, could not tumble, could not even put pressure, so I eventually went to a local doctor. He said that nothing was wrong. I then went to another local doctor who gave me an x-ray and said it was a hairline fracture – just a chip. I knew it could not be. Then we found another doctor in Morristown who then gave me an MRI and said I had major OCD in my right arm, and it was affecting my growth plate.”
Osteochondritis Dissecans (OCD) is a fragmentation and possible separation of a portion of the cartilage of the joint.
“So pieces were falling off and floating around,” Rodriguez said. “Once I was able to go back during most of the summer, I was good, but just before the season started, it came back. I could not bend my arm past 90 degrees or even put pressure on it. I just wanted to give up at this point. I cried and cried for days, telling my coaches I could not do it anymore. They told me that I cannot stop, that I can get a scholarship if I keep going. If I see the right doctors, I can continue pursuing my dream. I talked to a teammate and got a procedure done called PRP in New York.”
A PRP, or Platelet-Rich Plasma, begins with a small blood draw, usually in a patient’s arm. The drawn blood is placed into a machine called a centrifuge, which spins at a very high speed to isolate white blood cells and platelets from red blood cells and wasters plasma. The resulting platelet-rich concentrate is then injected into a damaged joint or other area of injury. The procedure requires heavy physical therapy in order to recover, so Rodriguez would not be able to attend gymnastics for six weeks.
Freshman and Rodriguez’s twin brother Michael Rodriguez said, “It was hard for her to just stay on the sidelines and watch her teammates compete while she was being treated. This is what seemed to give her the determination to do what she could to recover and get back to competing.”
Rodriguez is now continuing physical therapy and trying to gain back strength so she can be cleared to return to training.
What makes doing your favorite sport worth it to you?