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Kentridge's Valmonte keeps gymnastics connection after injuries
Despite standing a little over 4 feet tall, 16-year-old Crystal Valmonte has a strong spirit and dedication to her sport as a gymnast.
At 12 years old she placed in the top 10 gymnasts in her division at the USA Gymnastics Western National Championships. She got an early start to the sport; her parents enrolled her in classes when she was two years old.
“They pushed me when I was little,” the Kentridge High gymnast says, "but that was because they knew I would be good, but I didn’t.”
Even after a severe knee injury and surgery, she returned to gymnastics to compete on a less stressful level. But there were moments when she wanted to give up, specifically she says during sixth grade. She started to doubt her skills, and whether she had the will to continue with the rigorous training, but her parents insisted that she continue.
“I wanted one of those teenage lives; like hanging out with friends and just doing whatever, not going to practice every day till eight and then home. The same routine every day,” Valmonte said.
Valmonte found the resolve to continue with her training, and succeeded in making top 10 rankings in the Western Nationals competition for her sixth-grade division. Two years later, her body told her it couldn’t take anymore, and she tore her knee's anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and meniscus tissue, which connect the upper and lower leg bones.
She didn’t realize quite what it meant for her career until she got home, and then broke down.
“I cried, it sucked,” she said.
It wouldn’t be the first injury she suffered over her career as a gymnast. She says that besides the tears, she’s also endured one broken arm and no less than six twisted ankles.
Valmonte still isn’t certain about just when she tore the ACL, but she first noticed it after landing from a balance beam event. She was initially optimistic that she would be able to walk the tear off, but surgery killed that option just as well as it repaired her knee.
She tried to continue with gymnastics, but found it difficult to practice consistently without the intermittent pain from the surgeries.
“There’s no warning to it,” she says, “sometimes I’ll do something hard and it’ll tweak. Sometimes it’s just standing or walking.”
While Valmonte feels that her best days are behind her, she also wants to stay involved with gymnastics. She tried taking a year off, finally getting the reprieve that she had desired for so many years. Instead of relaxing, she found that she missed the sport, and her mother encouraged her to join the high school team. While less competitive, it would keep her around gymnasts.
“It’s a different environment,” she says. “In club you’re doing harder tricks, and like, putting more pressure on your muscles and stuff. And more endurance and cardio involved.”
Since Valmonte already had a good handle on most of the stunts that beginners learn in the first few weeks, she took to offering her expertise to her peers. It’s been a learning experience for her as she learns to take charge and teach her teammates successful techniques.
“At my gym I was always the baby, always the youngest," Valmonte says. "But here I’m one of the oldest, so I have to like, take control and make sure everyone’s on task.”
It’s also given her inspiration about future professions.
“I don’t really know what job I wanna do when I’m older, but this is definitely a choice,” she says. “I’ve been through all of the injuries, I know all the skills, I’ve gotten to the top.”