Student athletes’ roads to recovery

Injuries are an athletes’ greatest enemies. Their schedules become dictated by doctors’ appointments and rehab plans. It takes time management, dedication and passion for the sport to overcome those particularly challenging time periods.

Louisa Marie Knapp, a member of UAA’s gymnastics team, has experience in dealing with injuries. After the German native was hindered by a lower back and hip injury during the qualifications for the 2012 Olympic team, she withdrew from the sport, but only for a short period of time.

Louisa Marie Knapp works on strengthening her leg before her third ACL surgery. Courtesy Louisa Marie Knapp.

Knapp was given the opportunity to join a college gymnastics team in the United States, despite tearing her ACL in 2014. Numerous teams wanted the all-around gymnast until she tore her ACL again in 2016. Paul Stoklos, gymnastics head coach at the time, was still convinced of Knapp’s potential and offered her a spot on the team.

Knapp made progress and was able to train and compete for the Seawolves for several meets, but her knee was causing her issues during her rookie campaign.

“My knee was constantly giving out again and I couldn’t do any landings on competition surfaces. I had to get a third ACL reconstruction in May using some different techniques,” Knapp said.

Knapp avoided taking chances on her recovery and spends approximately five to six hours a day with rehab and treatment. Conditioning, strength and weight training, as well as basic gymnastic drills, are on her daily agenda.

“Being patient is probably the hardest part for me. I always want to be at my old level or even better as fast as possible and get very frustrated when my body tells me to slow down,” Knapp said.

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Knee injuries are common among student athletes. Maria Gudmundsdottir, alpine skier, shares the pain with Knapp. After falling at her national championship in Iceland 2012, Gudmundsdottir has experienced several setbacks.

Maria Gudmundsdottir shows off her bandages after her fifth knee surgery in June 2017. Courtesy Maria Gudmundsdottir .

“I blew my ACL, tore both my menisci in addition to some damages to the cartilage and a fracture on my right knee. It was a big surgery and a very long recovery, but it turned out pretty well,” Gudmundsdottir said.

Two years later, she fell again during a race and tore the same ACL. She received surgery to fix the damage and went on her road to recovery. Gudmundsdottir was able to gain strength again and improve her skiing skills before joining UAA.

“I came to Alaska in December of 2015. I had my first season as a collegiate athlete and overall my best season ever, with few podium finishes,” Gudmundsdottir said.

With a positive attitude and high ambitions for the next year, Gudmundsdottir went home for summer. She trained on a glacier to get some more skiing in before the beginning of school but ended up reinjuring her knee.

Gudmundsdottir spent all 2016-17 season rehabbing and trying to get back to collegiate skiing, but her knee wouldn’t improve. In June of this year, she underwent her fifth surgery on her knee.

“Skiing has been a huge part of my life since I was only a few years old. I love everything about the sport. My parents, siblings, roommates and my team have helped me to stay positive and fight through the tough times, which I’m forever thankful for,” Gudmundsdottir said.

Another UAA athlete who experienced a long path of medical setbacks is hockey player Cam Amantea. The junior was off to a great start during his rookie campaign before getting injuring his shoulder.

Cam Amantea during his rehab under Michael Dhesse during the summer. Amantea will start the 2017-18 hockey season uninjured. Photo by Karolin Anders.

Amantea underwent a Latarjet operation, which is a surgical procedure to treat recurrent shoulder dislocations. It ended his first season abruptly. Amantea stayed focused with the help of his support system, lead by athletic trainer Michael Dhesse.

“Michael was, and is, a huge help in getting me to return to playing again as well as keeping me as healthy as possible,” Amantea said. “Besides Michael, obviously, the guys on the team and the coaching staff are a huge help for being positive. They motivate me to keep pushing to get back. Away from the rink, though, my family is definitely a huge support group no matter the situation, especially my dad.”

Over the summer, Amantea nursed his latest toe fracture, which impacted his 2016-17 season. He feels ready for the upcoming season of hockey.

“Hockey has been a huge part of my life since I was 3 years old. It has taught me so many life lessons through all of the ups and downs involved with the game and has given me some of the best memories and friendships in my life,” Amantea said.

Being injured comes with a lot of pressure, especially, from the student athletes themselves.

For myself, the hardest part about being injured is the mental side of it all. Having to stop doing your sport and just watch is a really big adjustment that not a lot of people understand, and it is pretty easy to begin to think negatively about yourself or your injury. Thankfully I have had an awesome support group and will be starting this season healthy,” Amantea said.

Through 20 hours of official practice, optional practices, gear care, treatment, study halls, a full-time class schedule, community service and outside work loads, student athletes persevere even through setbacks and injury.