Assistant coach Brad Albano spotted Farmington High School gymnast Rebecca Opp during a practice. ] CARLOS GONZALEZ ï firstname.lastname@example.org - January 13, 2016, Farmington, MN, Farmington High School Gymnastics, Rebecca Opp
Farmington senior Becca Opp has used crutches and scooters to get around school. She has had both elbows in braces and casts. None of that has derailed her from enjoying one final season as a gymnast.
The past four years Opp has looked on in discomfort from the sidelines due to lingering injuries as her teammates performed countless exercises in practices and meets. She craved to be a part of it again.
“Even though the odds were against me, I was determined to come back to gymnastics,” Opp said. “My goal was to come back bigger, faster, stronger.”
The one-time all-arounder is limited strictly to vaulting nowadays. Opp celebrated the new year with her return to competition in a dual meet against Lakeville South on Jan. 5. She registered an 8.0 in the event during the Tigers’ victory.
“There were a ton of nerves, but she did a great job,” Farmington coach Amanda Lund said. “Baby steps at this point.”
With one big exception: She sprinted to her coach after her second and last vault in her initial meet back.
“She gave me the biggest hug of my life,” Opp said. “There were tears, of course, but they were tears of happiness.”
It was her first competition since the opening meet of her eighth-grade season. Opp was competing in the all-around competition and during her last tumbling pass on the floor exercise, she felt a pain in her right elbow. The next day she was diagnosed with a broken elbow, ending her season.
That was just the beginning of her downward spiral. She was pushing forward for her freshman season, only to break her left elbow during the first practice of the season.
“It was determined if I ever wanted to compete again, I would need to have surgery,” Opp said. “I decided to get the surgery and hoped to be back in time for my 10th grade season.”
Opp said she decided to take up running “to stay in optimal shape” since she wouldn’t be able to participate in her favorite sport. Even that turned out to be a bad idea.
“Unfortunately, a stress fracture in my pelvis from running prevented me from competing in my 10th-grade season,” Opp said. “Despite these injuries, I still clung to the hope of competing during my junior year.”
Practices got off to an enthusiastic start that next season. But further complications with her elbows kept her from ever competing her junior year.
“I knew that if I wanted one last chance to compete during my senior season, I would need to seriously push myself in the offseason physically, mentally and emotionally,” Opp said. “Despite multiple physical and mental setbacks, I was determined to compete my senior year. I pushed myself daily and began to gain confidence.”
Opp and Lund figured if she was going to make a comeback, it would be in her best interest to compete in one event instead of all-around. She decided on the vault because it’s one of her favorite events and doesn’t put too much stress on her elbows.
“Both of my elbows are hyperextended and prone to injury because of the pressure on the elbow joints,” said Opp, who currently wears customized elbow braces.
“They are known by my teammates as my ‘robotic arms’ because they are so big and protective,” Opp said. “But after sitting on the sidelines and not competing for over four years, I gladly use my ‘robotic arms’ in order to feel the joy of competing once again.”
Her goal is to add more technical difficultly to her Yurchenko vault, a routine she learned as a seventh grader.
“It took a lot of work to gain back this skill,” Opp said. “After a while, my body knew what to do, but it was my mind I had to convince. Overcoming these obstacles is a battle, but it’s a battle I was determined to win.”
That is exactly what separates her from other athletes, according to Lund.
“I have never worked with an athlete as driven as her,” Lund said. “She comes to practice for the full three hours although she can only do one event and one skill on that event. When she isn’t working on that skill, she is conditioning for the entire practice. She is an exemplary role model, an all around incredible young woman.”
Opp often refers to a quote from Carl Jung, a Swiss psychiatrist and psychotherapist, to capture her dilemma throughout these difficult times.
“I am not what happened to me,” Opp said. “I am what I choose to become.”
Ron Haggstrom • 612-673-4498