The long road to recovery
Published: Tuesday, January 29, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, January 29, 2013 02:01
Setting a career-high score on uneven bars Saturday night was the last thing Oregon State gymnast Stephanie McGregor expected to happen.
In fact, McGregor didn’t even know if she would be on the team for the 2013 season.
Back in December 2011, McGregor’s senior season snapped.
In her fourth year at OSU, she was primed for a breakout year.
“I’m feeling really confident,” McGregor remembers thinking. “Senior season, it’s the most ready I felt for competition season.”
With less than a month until the team’s first meet, McGregor tore her Achilles’ tendon. She was simply performing the same floor routine she’d been doing for three years.
But accidents happen.
McGregor immediately knew the implications: season-ending surgery.
“Honestly it didn’t hurt, as far as pain, when I tore it,” McGregor said. “What hurt me more, the reason I was crying, was emotionally knowing: there goes my season.”
McGregor was one of three seniors on last year’s team, the others being two-time Conference Gymnast of the Year Leslie Mak and 2011 All-American Olivia Vivian.
“I still remember the practice when it happened,” Vivian said. “It was extremely hard for everyone. We could tell that it was a season-ending injury right away, and there were times Leslie and I had to leave the gym because we were so emotional.”
McGregor had surgery a week later and was in crutches and a walking boot for two months. It wasn’t until three months after the surgery that she could walk comfortably.
She became a spectator.
“It was really tough watching what was supposed to be my senior season from the sidelines,” McGregor said.
She still remained a part of the team in a different capacity, commentating meets for the online broadcasts on osubeavers.com.
While McGregor was a part of the team, she wasn’t out on the floor competing for the first time in her gymnastics career.
McGregor was awarded a medical hardship to return for her fifth year.
Watching the team from a new perspective inspired her in the recovery process she was about to embark on.
“It was so hard,” McGregor said. “If anything, it gave me the motivation to keep working, having to sit on the sideline and watch.”
But like any season-ending surgery, the road is never easy.
Five months removed from the injury, when running and basic gymnastics training would normally resume, McGregor was behind in the rehabilitation process.
It was never a question of work ethic about why she was not recovering at a normal pace.
“Stephanie has always been one of the hardest workers on the team, there’s no question about it,” said associate head coach Michael Chaplin.
But something wasn’t clicking, and there was no explanation.
“I still couldn’t do a calf raise,” McGregor said. “It was really, really frustrating, and they didn’t know why, or what was going wrong.”
Teammates saw the frustration ensue and offered support.
“She was definitely discouraged for a little bit,” said senior Makayla Stambaugh. “A lot of us just told her to keep pushing, keep taking one day at a time, keep building up those muscles.”
Over the summer it started setting in that McGregor might not be ready in time for the season.
Head coach Tanya Chaplin approached McGregor about the possibility of using her fifth year to help the team in an assistant coaching position.
“I was this close to being like, ‘You know what, I’m too old for this sport anymore. I don’t know if I could do it. Maybe I’d be better off helping the team in a coaching role,’” McGregor said.
She had to make her decision before the gymnasts officially reported in September.
McGregor was already coming back for a fifth year at OSU, graduating with a degree in bioengineering in June. The two-time All-Academic First Team selection in the conference is also planning on applying for medical school this summer.
After receiving advice from family and friends, McGregor decided she would make a run at one last season as an Oregon State gymnast.
The rehabilitation process was suddenly advancing quickly. In the two months leading up the annual Orange and Black Exhibition meet, McGregor showed unmitigated progress.
She was back.
“I’m not surprised that she’s been able to make the strides she has,” Michael Chaplin said. “Because once that decision was made to come back with gymnastics, you knew she was going to give it everything she had, 100 percent, that’s just Stephanie.”
Coaches had already tabbed her for the uneven bars rotation, but getting in the vault lineup came as a surprise.
McGregor took the floor in Gill Coliseum for the first time in nearly two years on Jan. 11.
“The first time back competing in Gill, I was quite nervous,” McGregor said. “I haven’t been that nervous to compete in a while.”
Nerves aside, McGregor delivered in her return with a 9.750 on vault and a 9.850 on bars.
It was Saturday’s Metroplex Challenge — against three top-10 teams — in Fort Worth, Texas, that sealed the story on McGregor’s recovery.
McGregor set her career-high in uneven bars with a score of 9.925 — a score only nine gymnasts in the country have bested this year.
She also has shown progress in her vault scores, notching a 9.825 in Saturday’s meet.
“When I see how amazing Steph is doing it makes me so proud of her,” Vivian said, who is currently in her native Australia. “Knowing how difficult and frustrating her recovery process was, it’s so awesome knowing all her hard work is paying off and she’s having a strong senior year.”