COLUMBIA — Eleven-year-old Stephanie Gregg knew something was wrong as soon as she landed.
The Gentry Middle School sixth-grader could feel the last vertebrae above her tailbone fracture as she landed a front-handspring vault she had practiced many times before.
“At first they told me I might never be able to do gymnastics or dance ever again,” Gregg said.
But after six months of rest and healing, the determined gymnast is ready to prove she still has what it takes July 25 at the Show-Me State Games gymnastics competition.
"I've competed in it every year. It's kind of a tradition," said Gregg, who qualified in every event at last year's Show-Me State Games.. "I want to show everyone I can still do the skills after my injury."
Gregg started formal gymnastics training when she was 6 and has competed for the past four years. Her mother, Kristi Gregg, said she's a natural.
“It’s kind of a family tradition. Me and my sister were both MU gymnasts, and I was teaching gymnastics when Stephanie was born," Kristi Gregg said. "She’s grown up around watching other people do gymnastics.”
During the summer, Stephanie Gregg and her teammates typically practice four days a week for four hours each day. During the school year and competition season, the girls spend at least 12 hours a week practicing.
“I like it when I go to meets and, for all my hard work, I get medals and trophies,” Stephanie Gregg said.
But after her accident in December, she was put in a back brace for four weeks and was advised to find another activity. It took her awhile to get used to not going to the gym every day.
“She was a nervous wreck at home trying to figure out what to do,” Kristi Gregg said.
“I was kind of sad because I don’t really like any other sports, except maybe soccer. Gymnastics is really the only way I spend my free time,” Stephanie Gregg said.
Stephanie Gregg has slowly bounced back to gymnastics by following her doctor's guidelines. She returned to practice June 13, only allowing her six weeks of training before the Show-Me Games. She will compete in every event — bar, beam, floor and vault — in the Level 7 junior bracket.
As a result of her injury, she suffers from spondylosis, which her mother described as a common dance and gymnastics injury that could lead to other back problems later in life. She is still unable to do some skills, particularly those that would require her to completely bend her back. This required her to redo her whole floor routine and alter parts of her beam routine.
“She’s looking like she’s on track, so we’re looking to have a good performance from her,” said Zina Fudge, who is Stephanie Gregg’s aunt and coach, as well as owner of Flipz USA Gymnastics in Columbia.
Stephanie Gregg admitted she is a little nervous to return to competition.
“I’m scared that I might mess up on a skill or something because I haven’t done it in a long time,” she said.
Her mother said she is more nervous.
“I’m tentative on her starting back just unaware of her injury and the consequences of another similar fall,” Kristi Gregg said.
But the family isn't letting the unknown stop them. Less than a week after the Show-Me State Games, Stephanie Gregg will be off to the State Games of America in Colorado Springs at the U.S. Air Force Academy. The multi-sport event is every other year for medal winners of nationwide state games to compete against other state winners.
Painted on a wall at Flipz USA Gymnastics, where Stephanie Gregg trains, are the words strength, courage, hope, dream, inspire and faith. All of them could be used to describe the family's attitude as Stephanie returns to competition.
"If she enjoys doing gymnastics, I want her to decide if she wants to continue or not," Kristi Gregg said. "Injuries are just a part of gymnastics."