Varsity gymnast comes back strong from from knee injury

LT gymnastics prepares for season


Girls gymnastics team at practice before the pause on sports. (photo by Darragh McDermott)

Rory Quealy, Assistant Web Editor

On the last day of the LT gymnastics summer camp in June 2018, varsity gymnast Joelle Mologousis ‘21 was warming up to show off a skill that she had learned that week. She was practicing a backhandspring on the beam when she slipped, hyperextended her left knee, and heard it pop. 

“I was really nervous of what [the injury] could be, but I was also just trying to get through that moment,” Mologousis said. 

She found out that she tore both her left ACL and her meniscus and sprained her MCL. Mologousis needed surgery and got it right after the injury. She could barely walk for two weeks. After that she started physical therapy which lasted for nine months. In total, she was out of gymnastics for over a year. 

“Me and a few of my teammates made varsity freshman year, and that was awesome,” Mologousis said. “We were really excited, and then I got hurt. I was really looking forward to sophomore year, especially because I was able to get back into my club gym and train a little bit.”

During her time out from gymnastics, Mologousis and varsity teammate Madeline Gruca ‘21 served as team managers. Gruca was also injured that season after dislocating her left knee cap at a soccer game in October 2018. They learned a lot about gymnastics and being good teammates while they were managers, Mologousis said. 

“It was hard at first, but it gave me new opportunities and a different perspective on the sport,” Mologousis said. “I was able to help the team out in different ways other than just being a physical attribute.” 

As a team manager, Mologousis functioned like a coach and gave the team feedback, varsity gymnastics coach Darragh McDermott said. She also ran drills, led team building activities, and served as a motivator if someone was having a hard day. 

“One way she helped me was during competitions,” varsity gymnast Nicole Brom ‘21 said. “I would get really nervous, so she would stand in my corner if I was competing on floor, and on beam, she would stand at the end of the beam and hype me up. She was really supportive in just cheering everyone on.”

Mologousis was able to start training again during her junior season, which started in November 2019. When she first returned to gymnastics, Mologousis concentrated mostly on uneven bars because it didn’t focus heavily on her knee and worked on the basics, such as full turns on beam and cartwheels on the floor. Along with building up her skills and strength, Mologousis had to build back her confidence. Because gymnastics is a mental sport, coming back from an injury can be difficult and scary, but Mologousis was able to maintain a good attitude throughout the process, McDermott said. 

“She’s probably one of the most positive people I know,” McDermott said. “Always positive and excited, and she was always really honest about where she felt like her knee was at and was able to assess accurately what she felt like was too much or too little.”

One of the biggest hurdles in her recovery, however, was regaining the skill that originally injured her, the backhandspring on beam. She attempted it again for the first time at practice in January. 

“At first I pictured [the injury] and went back to that moment,” Mologousis said. “But then I sat myself down and told myself that it was in the past, it was a freak accident and that I’ve done the training. [All of my coaches and teammates] were cheering for me, and knowing that I had everyone behind me made it easier mentally.” 

Overall, Mologousis reflects on the recovery process with a positive light. 

“There were times where I wished I could just be as strong as I was before and have certain skills again, but honestly the process made me a stronger person and it’s something that gave me perspective on how much I’m grateful for the sport and for my team,” Mologousis said. 

Girls gymnastics started the season this year on Nov. 16. However, winter sports have had to take a pause on their seasons until January.  Every year, McDermott chooses a team motto for the season as a way to motivate the gymnasts. This year the motto is “release.” It has a double meaning because there is a difficult gymnastics skill on the uneven bars called a release, but also because the season will look different due to COVID-19.

“We are approaching every day with a positive mindset and releasing and letting go of the things that are out of our control, ” McDermott said. “So when we’re in the gym, we are releasing stress over our math class, we’re releasing stress over having Thanksgiving on Zoom. [We are] approaching [the season] with release as both a skill and a mindset.”

 During the off season, many gymnasts trained using packets created by Coach McDermott that focused on conditioning, mindfulness, sleep and diet. 

“I think with a lot of our mindfulness training and focusing on the whole person rather than just the gymnast, that will really help us this year—potentially compared to other teams who only relied solely on skills and haven’t practiced some of the things we’ve had in place for a few years,” McDermott said. “I think our girls will thrive under pressure because they know how to take things in stride and adapt to changes.”

Some of the gymnasts, such as Mologousis, Gruca, and Brom, were also able to train at their club gym, the Illinois Gymnastics Institute (IGI). 

“I think compared to prior years, we’ll do better because more girls have been training in the off season than past seasons, even though the off season was cut short because of Coronavirus,” Gruca said. “I think that people are really getting at it and practicing and trying new skills.”

Girls gymnastics wasn’t able to take part in the contact days, like many other LT sports were, because the floor in the gymnastics gym was getting redone. Despite this and other changes due to COVID-19, the gymnasts are confident and excited going into their season. 

“I’m really excited for the season,” Mologousis said. “I know it will be really different, but different isn’t always bad. The season won’t be like the other ones—we might not have as many meets, we might not have as many girls—but it will still be that family aspect.”