Tough as nails – Broken wrist fails to hamper gymnast |

Tough as nails – Broken wrist fails to hamper gymnast

Imagine competing in gymnastics with a broken wrist. Every push off the vault, every tumbling sequence or worse yet, any skill on the uneven bars, sends excruciating pain through your body.

Karissa Painter, a 10-year-old from Rising Starz Gymnastics in Grass Valley experienced this scenario.

“I was on the beam and I did a back handspring step out and my wrist landed half on the beam and half off the beam and I heard a crack,” Karissa said as she thought back to how the injury occurred.

She mentioned to her parents once or twice that her wrist was a tad sore, but the talented young gymnast was more focused on her chance to compete in the National Testing program for TOPS (Talent Opportunity Program) than pay attention to the pain.

TOPS is a program run by USA Gymnastics with the goal of “identifying talented young gymnasts from ages 7 to 11 that are not currently seeking or training for elite or international competition.”

Approximately 2,600 gymnasts attended regional testing this summer, with the top 300 girls, ages 9-11, being invited to the national testing camp in Houston at Marta and Bella Korolyi’s ranch.

Painter attended regional camp in Reno, Nev., where she was put through strength/conditioning testing in areas like push-ups, sit-ups and sprinting. During her testing in Reno, Painter posted the second-fastest sprint time in the entire country, flying down the vault runway in 2.91 seconds.

Not surprisingly, Painter was chosen to move on to National Testing, but unbeknownst to her and her family she would compete the entire time on a broken wrist.

During the two-day testing, 60 percent of the time was spent on skill testing with the remaining time dedicated to strength testing. Painter, despite the sore wrist, completed 55 push-ups in 60 seconds.

While she didn’t test high enough to be placed on the top two teams, Karissa and her family were amazed that she was even able to compete after they found out how serious her wrist injury was.

Three weeks after the injury occurred, her mom, Heide, took her daughter to the doctor to get her wrist checked out.

“The doctor told us that if we weren’t sitting right there telling him how she had competed on the broken wrist, he never would have believed it,” Heide said. “He told us that gymnasts tend to block out the pain when they want to accomplish something.”

Four months later, the wrist is completely healed and Karissa is back to competing.

At the inaugural Rising Starz Gymnastics’ Best in the West Invitational, held this past weekend at Nevada Union High School, Karissa placed fifth on the vault and sixth on the beam and 12th in the all-around competition.

Because Karissa has moved through the levels so fast, the majority of the girls she competes against are 13-year-olds.

At the age of 5, Karissa watched her cousins compete in the sport and decided she too wanted to try gymnastics, so her mom signed her up for a recreational class. After three weeks, instructors told Heide and her husband, Jeff, that their daughter had so much natural talent, that they needed to get her in a program.

During that next season Karissa completed level four and made the decision to switch to the Rising Starz gym. At Rising Starz she completed levels five and six in just under three years – something unusual for a gymnast her age.

“She just has so much natural talent,” said Kara Bennett, Karissa’s coach at Rising Starz. “It’s unbelievable how everything comes so easy to her. I’ll show her a skill and she will get it right the first time she tries. Natural-talent wise, she’s one of the best gymnasts I’ve seen.”

Not only is her natural talent unusual, but so is the way Karissa views her sport.

” I guess I just want to get a better score than I did in the meet before,” she said.

Unlike many girls her age, she doesn’t gush about someday qualifying for the Olympics – in fact she’d rather tell you how proud she is that she doesn’t get sick before she competes in a meet anymore. The small things are what seem most important to her.

Her favorite part of gymnastics is being part of the team, an attitude rarely found in such an individual sport.

“During a parent’s class at the National Testing, they told us that 99.9 percent of gymnasts are type “A” personalities,” Heide said. “Not Karissa though. She’s very go with the flow, happy and content in her sport. Up until last year ,she didn’t even know what the scores meant.”

Ask Karissa to describe herself in three words and she respond’s with “athletic and ‘nice’ to people,” but has trouble coming up with a third.

Jeff, her father, suggests “feisty” and Karissa fires back with a laugh and a sharp “only sometimes,” as her eyes shine behind the tiny glasses that frame her face.

Thirty seconds later, she runs off to join the rest of her teammates in the gym, nestling herself right in the middle of the group.

As she chats with the girls surrounding her, its easy to see she is simply enjoying her time in gymnastics, no matter where the sport takes her.

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