Sarah took third place at the VIP Challenge prior to the pandemic shutdown.

Local athlete Sarah Thompson has known what it means to fight her way back from an injury to return to the sport she loves. Sarah is a sophomore at Dakota High School and has dedicated herself to the sport of competitive Power Tumbling. Power Tumbling falls under the USA Gymnastics umbrella with two other events including Trampoline and Double Mini Trampoline.

Sarah’s journey began when her parents Patty and Todd Thompson and brother Evan welcomed her home at the age of 10 months old. Sarah was adopted from Jiangxi Province, China.

Once home in Davis, Ill., it didn’t take long for her parents to realize she was a natural athlete and enrolled her in gymnastics classes. At the age of 3 Sarah began her first tumbling class, and she was quickly placed in a team class by the age of 5.

Sarah has been a member of the J&J Tumbling and Trampoline team for 9 years and has progressed quickly through the developmental levels and is now an Elite level competitor. Sarah’s typical routines consist of eight different skills performed on a long tumbling floor. She now performs a combination of somersaults, twisting and double somersaults in each routine.

Sarah’s path through the developmental levels was very successful winning numerous competitions in each of the three events. As Sarah reached higher levels of competition, she decided her strength was in Power Tumbling leading to her specialization in that event.

Sarah has traveled to numerous competitions in the Midwest and Nationally to compete on the National stage. Last season in 2019 Sarah was old enough to enter the Junior Elite level of competition and began her first qualification process for the World Championships to be held in Japan later that year.

The World’s 13-14 year-old team would consist of the top four Nationally ranked athletes. Having been new to the Elite levels, Sarah was unsure where she would rank amongst the seasoned competitors.

After the first competition of the season, Sarah found herself ranked 2nd in the nation. The second of three qualification competitions was in North Carolina and after the preliminary round Sarah moved up to being ranked 1st.

Sarah had all but secured her spot on the team as the top two out of three competition results were used for the ranking. Warming up for the final round of competition, Sarah suffered a ruptured achilles tendon. This devastating injury meant an end to her competition season and goal of traveling to the World Championships.

Sarah’s parents drove her the next day from the competition in North Carolina to Chicago. She had surgery to repair her achilles within four days by a top orthopedic specialist. After her surgery, her true competition began.

Sarah approached her extensive 10-month rehabilitation program the same way she does her training; aggressively, with laser focus and with a perpetual positive attitude and contagious smile. Her physical therapist at OrthoIllinios Rehabilitation was amazed weekly at her dedication and rapid progress.

When asking Ashley Grover, PT, DPT her thoughts on how this injury would affect Sarah she stated, “Some athletes view their injuries and surgeries as a major setback in their career, but not Sarah.

“Every therapy session it seemed she would find some sort of challenge with a new exercise, but through the struggles she would overcome and master it by the next session. She was the hardest worker in the gym and at home.

“Sarah’s success comes from her not giving up or feeling sorry for herself. She doesn’t make excuses. She is tenacious, adverse, and a goal setter. She will go far in her career with her knowledge and dedication to her sport.”

Sarah was often ahead of all her postoperative rehabilitation protocols and through it all kept an amazing positive attitude and drive to heal and return to competition.

In January of 2020 Sarah was released and was able to return to the sport of competitive tumbling. Beginning slowly, she again showed rapid progress. There were some challenges along the way as the take-off position for double somersaults places a very large strain to the achilles tendons.

With persistent training and strengthening, Sarah had faced her first competition since her injury late February. The USA Gymnastics VIP Classic was in Evansville, Ind. In the preliminary round Sarah was able to complete her same routines that she had performed the year before.

Officially making her full return to her previous competitive level. The first competition back was a greater mental challenge than physical. Sarah was dealing with some soreness in her shin with the increased training load as well as the nerves of having not competed since May of 2019 when her injury occurred.

After successfully completing her routines in the preliminary round, Sarah was in fourth place. Not being fully pleased with her preliminary result, Sarah outperformed her preliminary routines and in the final round she was able to move up to third place and take a medal on the podium. Her goal of returning to the same level she left off at was met, and Sarah was well on her way to placing herself on the National Team once again for Junior Elite athletes with her eye on competing in Canada in early Fall.

With the abrupt halt to the 2020 season a few weeks later in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Sarah’s national level aspirations were placed on a temporary hold once again. She is actively strengthening and performing conditioning in her home six days a week.

Sarah continues to complete her academic work for Dakota High School at a high level and has had plenty of time to play with her pup, Bailey. When asking her coach Megan Gearhart if she thought Sarah could start over yet once again she stated, “Sarah’s amazing work ethic and positive attitude is equal to her level of natural talent and she will return to a high level of competition without a doubt, she has already done it once and knows what it takes to do it again.”

Although it is unlikely additional competitions will be held this season, Sarah will be in the gym and training as soon as she is allowed to do so with her goal of making the USA Gymnastics Junior Elite National Tumbling Team and traveling internationally to represent the United States. For now, Sarah is looking forwards to seeing her friends at the gym and training some new skills once again. Her goal is to attend the World Championships in the sport of Power Tumbling and she a quote that keeps her focused on this goal is “A winner is a dreamer, that never gives up.”


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