Rachel Pratt reached for her right knee. Sometimes, she doesn’t even know she’s doing it. She ran a finger over the faint scar and recalled the two injuries that tried to take gymnastics away.
“Two in the past three years,” Pratt said.
The first was a bruised femur, suffered when Pratt landed on her knees while doing a vault. That took her out for a season.
When she came back, Pratt tore the ACL and meniscus of her right knee. Another six months of recovery and rehabilitation. Another season of prime competitive time gone, and that makes her comeback all the more impressive.
Pratt won the beam competition and placed sixth overall at last weekend’s meet at the Alfond Youth Center in Waterville. With that, Pratt qualified for the regionals in Boston later this month.
“That was my main goal,” Pratt, a senior at Skowhegan Area High School, said.
“She’s never quit on the sport or on our gym family,” said Alexis Evans, one of Pratt’s coaches at Decal Gymnastics.
Instead of becoming a part of her past, Pratt recovered by making gymnastics a bigger part of her life. She started coaching in Decal’s youth program.
“She’s always been a really good role model for the kids,” Evans said. “They love her. She motivates them and pushes them.”
“It was cool, because all the kids saw that I was injured,” Pratt said. “They were like, â€˜If I ever get injured, I can (coach), too.'”
Coaching reminded Pratt of her earliest involvement in gymnastics. First, as a 4-year-old girl who begged her parents to stop at the gym so she could press her face against the window and stare at the big kids training.
“When I was at home, I would always do gymnastics. I would never stop. My parents thought I was crazy, but I would never stop doing it,” Pratt said.
Two injuries tested Pratt, but they didn’t get her to stop. Her coaches and teammates kept Pratt involved. When Pratt doubted the healing process, when pain cracked her knee like a hammer, one of the things that kept her going was her Decal team.
“Whenever I was down because I was out, they picked me back up. They were very inspirational,” Pratt said. “They kept having me come back to practice. They didn’t let me be in the dark. The coaches were really great, getting me through extra practices. Letting me come in whenever, just to work on things. The basic stuff that I had lost.”
Returning to competition this season was hard at first. Pratt needed to rebuild her strength, and skills not used in six months can feel awkward. But muscle memory combined with perseverance is a wonderful thing. Pratt also noticed that the beams, an event she never considered one of her best, was now a place she could excel.
“It’s not so hard on my knees, so I could practice it more,” Pratt said.
Next fall, Pratt will be a freshman at the University of Rhode Island. Her plan is to study kineseology. That’s a decision that wasn’t forged in her rehab. It goes back more than a decade.
“I was looking at a book I made in first grade, and I wanted to be a physical therapist,” Pratt said.
First, the regionals.