Kent State’s lone competitor fought off early injuries
Sophomore Christina Lenny placed sixth overall in the all-around with a score of 39.175 at the regional championships. She will compete at the National Championships at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, Nebraska tomorrow through Friday. Daniel R. Doh
Credit: DKS Editors
Surgery, crutches, time off and fewer routines did not stop sophomore gymnast Christina Lenny from making it to NCAA National Championships this week – they just made her determination stronger.
“It’s just a really exciting feeling because I know not many people make it to nationals,” Lenny said. “And to be one of those people who go, it makes me feel really good.”
Lenny, like many gymnasts, has had small injuries throughout her gymnastics career. However, during her junior year at Brecksville-Broadview Heights, she started to have serious shin splints in her right leg.
At the time, Lenny was being scouted by many college coaches, including Kent State’s Brice Biggin, and was recognized as one of the best vaulters in the area.
Lenny was part of the club team at Gymnastics World in Broadview Heights. Kent State has a running relationship with the coaches of Gymnastics World, who let Kent State’s coaches know of up-and-coming gymnasts, as well as their injuries.
Lenny’s shin splints turned into stress fractures, which are caused by repeated stress on the bones. The fractures caused Lenny to take time off and rest her right leg.
When the shin splints and stress fractures continued, Lenny and her family had the difficult decision of deciding or not it would be a wise decision for Lenny to undergo surgery.
The surgery would not only mean that Lenny would have to take time off, but also that she would have metal rods permanently placed in her right leg. Two other gymnasts from Gymnastics World successfully had the surgery before Lenny, but there was a small risk Lenny would not be able to continue on with the sport.
“It’s always in the back of your mind because you never know what is going to happen,” Lenny said.
In the end, Lenny decided to have with the surgery and took about four months off from gymnastics.
The surgery and time off didn’t stop Lenny from coming back her senior year and pushing herself to become a level 10 state champion in floor, bars and vault. However, even with her achievements and potential, she was overlooked by some colleges because of injury concerns.
“(Making it to nationals) means a lot because there were some schools that were looking at me in high school who didn’t want me because I had the surgery,” Lenny said. “And to be able to go and show everyone that you can get better even if you have surgery, like you can still be really successful (was important).”
Lenny visited Kent State and thought the facilities, coaches and team were a “perfect fit” for her. Biggin saw the potential and talent in Lenny and welcomed her to the Kent State team.
“I guess you always take a little chance, but certainly we felt like she was worth any risk we could see with her,” Biggin said. “Obviously the risk has been rewarding (us) pretty well throughout her first two years.”
During her freshman year, Lenny helped the Flashes by competing in all 12 meets and the Mid-American Conference Championships. Lenny won the MAC vault championship and took second place on floor.
This season Lenny started off strong in the first few meets, but she began to have problems with shin splints once more, this time in her left leg.
“It was very frustrating,” Lenny said. “I’d already been through it once. I knew all the pain that I had to go through and then having to decide if I wanted surgery or not.”
Coaches and trainers put Lenny on a modified workout schedule with fewer routines and less practice, hoping it would help her to heal and prevent an actual stress fracture.
“We were concerned,” Biggin said. “She’s a big part of the scoring. We know what her potential is as a gymnast, but obviously we understand that you can only do what the body is going to allow you to do.”
After being placed on crutches, Lenny sat out the entire Bowling Green meet and didn’t compete on floor and vault during the next few meets.
“I hated it. It was horrible,” Lenny said. “Competing is my favorite thing about gymnastics, and to not be able to help out my team and be able to do what I love to do, it was very hard to me.”
Lenny used the time off as inspiration to push herself more once she was allowed to perform in all four events again.
Lenny’s self-determination helped her to make it through the MAC Championships and NCAA Division I Central Region Championships. Lenny placed sixth in the all-around competition at regionals, qualifying her to move on to nationals and become the sixth Kent State gymnast to make it to nationals in 15 years.
“It was always a goal of mine that helped me get through practices and push harder,” Lenny said. “But actually making it, I never expected it.”
She will travel to the University of Nebraska to compete tomorrow night with the top gymnasts in the nation.
“There are some of the best athletes there – some of the best gymnasts out there, which she’ll see,” Biggin said “She has got a lot of talent and can score very close to what a lot of these other people can if she doesn’t start comparing herself to them.”
Lenny said her goal is to place in an event, but what she really wants is to have the meet she knows she is capable of and enjoy herself.
“I’m just going to try and have as much fun as possible because you never know if this opportunity it going to come again,” she said.
Contact sports reporter Pamela Crimbchin at [email protected]