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Kennedy makes graceful comeback

December 13, 2018
CJ Eilers - Editor ( , Traer Star-Clipper

Ever since she can remember, Grace Kennedy has been an energetic, athletic girl. Her mom related stories of Grace running around the house, doing somersaults on the couch. Now 12 years old, Grace had taken that energy and expended it with gymnastics surrounded by close friends. That all came to a halt suddenly last fall.

"At some point, she had an injury to her knee and the bone died instead of healed," Trish Kennedy said about her daughter. "It became two centimeters of dead bone. The surgeon at the University of Iowa explained this tends to happen to athletes that train year round without a break."

The damage is inflicted on Grace was a osteochondral defect in the cartilage of her knee. Immediately, the Trish and her husband Keith put Grace on crutches to see if the bone would heal. Progress was shown and Grace tried training for the season, but within months the knee stopped healing once again. Surgery was required next as they drilled into her knee through dead and healthy bones to make it bleed and promote healing. Gymnastics was put on hold for the time being and Grace had to take a relaxed approach to her daily life.

Article Photos

Grace Kennedy took first place in beam during her first competition back from surgery on October 6. Photo submitted.

"Not being able to practice was sad and boring, just having to sit at home and not being able to even walk on that knee at all," Grace said.

Slowly but surely, the knee began to heal, albeit with soreness persisting. Grace eventually was able to return to practice on a limited basis with Blackhawk Gymnastics under the direction of Jess Hare, her coach for the past five years.

"Grace is a very hard worker, a leader in the gym and the younger girls look up to her," Hare said. "After her surgery she had to miss a lot of practice and do physical therapy. We took it day by day with conditioning and resting her knee . Once she was cleared by the doctor, we slowly got back into skills she was doing before. It took awhile, but she ended up getting back and competing."

According to Hare, gymnasts normally are able to recover quickly and certainly expected Grace to come back strong for the 2018 season. The youngest Kennedy finally got her chance on Ocotober 6, notably competing in her favorite event, beam, and placing first in her first competition back.

"It was fun to finally come back and practice with my friends again," Grace said. "I only did beam and bars at first to started slowly. After I came back, I'd feel sore after practice I'd have to put ice on knee, but I was still having fun."

But Grace had a bigger goal in mind, to make the State Gymnastics Competition in Cedar Rapids in December. In order to qualify, Grace had to compete in all four events-vaults, bars, beam, and floor-and finish with a combined score of 36. Carefully working her way back to doing all four events, Grace qualified for State at a meet on October 27, which just happened to be her birthday. After a year of pain, boredom and working her way back into shape, the young Traer native found herself back on the top of the podium with supporters all around her each step of the way.

"My parents and my friends were my biggest supporters and cheered me on at competitions," Grace said. "They were always supportive and never told me anything negative. I was scared to get back into this because of the soreness, but happy as well."

State took place in Cedar Rapids at Game On on Saturday, Dec. 8, where Grace took fourth place overall in her age group and placed second in her favorite event, beam.

"I'm proud of myself for being about to get back to State after all of that," Grace said. "It was difficult to get my skills back after surgery, but once I did it was fun for me again."

"It was a really difficult year for us," Trish said added. "To watch someone so energetic and bouncy be force to not do any of that is tough. She's worked hard even with it being painful. She's come a long way and we are very proud of her."

Grace plans to continue to do gymnastics next year and then consider being done with it to concentrate on school sports such as track and volleyball. But for now, those around her are just glad to see her back on the gym floor doing what she does best.

"She had a great season and improved at every meet," Hare said. "Her strength is definitely beam and she ended up getting second at beam while at State. Her perseverance has been a good example of the other kids, showing you can be injured and come back to a lot of success."



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