Torn ACL? No worries for Pierce
Claire Pierce returns to competition after refusing to let severe knee injury slow down her gymnastics career at Oregon State
Published: Thursday, January 17, 2008
Updated: Tuesday, July 24, 2012 20:07
Senior Claire Pierce doesn't seem to let a fall or a torn ACL keep her out of the Beaver beam lineup.Calm and collected best describe Pierce's demeanor when she approaches competition. On a 4-inch-wide beam, steadiness is hard to come by, but for this 5'2" gymnast from Livermore, Calif., it just comes naturally.
"In the gym she is a really hard worker," teammate Becky Colvin said. "I know she was really excited when she started getting back into beam because that was her event. Everyone said she was really good on it."
Pierce started her career at Oregon State in 2005, where she hit 14 for 14 competition routines during her freshman season. The 2003 Junior Olympic national champion on the beam proved to be one of the most consistent beam performers for Oregon State in the past four years.
"Beam has always been my best event," Pierce said. "It is the one event I can shine on. The other events are kind of average, but beam sticks out for me."
In 2006 Pierce scored 9.8 or better on the beam in eight performances. She also was a contributor on the floor, where she performed as an alternate.
After a successful start to the 2007 season, acting as the anchor for the Beaver beam lineup and a consistent starter on the floor, Pierce's season was cut short. An awkward landing on a front tumbling pass at Stanford resulted in a torn ACL in her right knee.
"It was my last tumbling pass on floor," Pierce said. "A 'front handspring Rudi' is what it is called. It is a twisting pass, and I just wasn't high enough so I hit the floor twisting, and I felt a pop and then I was on the ground," she said.
"I was immediately on crutches. I found out that I had torn my ACL and my meniscus and so I had to have both of those reconstructed."
Before the injury, Pierce was earning beam scores that would have helped Oregon State in its quest for Super Six qualification last season. She posted scores that matched or bettered 9.825.
Since the injury, Pierce has undergone surgery and a long rehabilitation process that kept her off the equipment - until recently, that is. Along with the recovery came the decision that Pierce would specialize on the balance beam and only compete in that event.
"That was a decision between me and the coaches," Pierce said. "I didn't feel like I could come back on floor in one year and I haven't vaulted since freshman year. Beam is the event that I am really passionate about and the one I really wanted to come back to."
During the healing process Pierce took the advice of her roommate, Brooke Barclay, who suffered the same ACL injury the previous year.
"It's hard for anyone to do rehab," Barclay said. "I went through the same rehab she did the year before. She told me that she was glad that I had been through it before. She could ask me questions like 'Did this happen to your knee?' She definitely went through some tough times, but she's good at keeping her chin up and her goals in mind."
With the strength returning to her knee, confidence was the only attribute Pierce needed to regain for the 2008 season.
"I still get scared of things," Pierce said. "Especially coming back, I think going from the floor, to low beam and up to the high beam, the fear is more wondering if my knee can handle this, more than fears you might have when you're not worried about an injury."
Pierce got her chance to compete again at the Black and Orange Intersquad meet held at Gill Coliseum in December.
"We had to make our own lineup for our Gill intersquad," Barclay said. "The team [Pierce] was on picked her to compete, and that really surprised her. She was lacking confidence as far as whether or not she would even get a chance to be in lineup because she didn't have all of her skills in the routine yet."
Pierce's performance at the intersquad meet helped to reassure her that she was getting closer to reaching her previous level of potential.
At the Beavers' first meet of the season in Las Vegas, Pierce was selected to perform a beam exhibition after the other competitors completed their routines.
"She did really well," said head coach Tanya Chaplin. "Claire is a solid performer, so that was our biggest thing, trying to get back all of the skills. She keeps plucking away each week, adding more and more skills in. I think that what was good to see was that even though she was injured, she hasn't lost that competitiveness."
Whether in the lineup or on the sidelines, Pierce has always shown dedication to the Oregon State program.
"I was recruited by a few different schools," Pierce said. "When I came on my trip to Oregon State I just really fit in with the team and I loved the atmosphere. It was kind of like a click, this is where I want to be."
After three years as a Beaver gymnast, Pierce was named team captain.
"She was given that role before she got injured, and now that she is back she is in that role again," Barclay said. "She is very motivated and so focused, but also helps bring the team together."
Despite playing a mainly supportive role during the end of the 2007 season, with career highs of 9.875 on the beam and 9.825 on the floor, it is no wonder why Oregon State welcomes her return to the competition floor this season.
Sami Redmond, sports writer