Broken foot doesn’t keep Bensley from gold medal
Some of the greatest moments in sports history have involved athletes overcoming injury to perform at a high level.
• Willis Reed suiting up for the Knicks in Game 7 of the 1970 NBA finals despite a torn leg muscle.
• The Los Angeles Rams’ Jack Youngblood playing in Super Bowl XIV with a broken leg.
• Boston’s Curt Schilling and the bloody sock in Game 6 of the 2004 American League Championship Series.
• And perhaps most fittingly, Kerri Strug in the 1996 Olympics, winning the gold medal on the vault with a badly injured ankle.
This past April at Xtreme Gymnastics in Denver, a 10-year-old Grand Junction gymnast put on her own gutsy performance at the Colorado Level 7 State Meet.
Kidzplex’s Jaelyn Bensley turned in a first-place finish on the uneven parallel bars, scoring a 9.625, and had a third-place finish all-around (37.4), all while competing on a broken foot.
“She’d been doing well all season, and her goal was to be the state bars champion,” Jaelyn’s father and Kidzplex owner Brian Bensley said. “We thought we should pull her out, but she wanted to do it and the doctor said he didn’t think it would be a permanent injury.”
Brian said the competition was so tough, Jaelyn was going to need to perform a near-perfect routine despite the injury.
With a taped right ankle and foot, Jaelyn took to the uneven bars. The routine required her to dismount at roughly 10 feet in the air.
“It had to be perfect with no deductions,” Brian said. “She’s a little girl and where she’s dropping for the landing it’s pretty tough, but she stuck it. We were all thrilled.”
Jaelyn stuck the landing but felt pain when she landed on the mat. With judges watching for her to make a false move, it was a testament to her toughness to not take a step or let her legs buckle.
“There was pain when I landed, but I wasn’t thinking about my foot,” Jaelyn said. “I was happy to be done, and have had made it through bars.”
The Bensleys knew Jaelyn had put together a solid routine but didn’t find out until later in the event that she had won the state title.
“I was really excited when I found out because it’s really tough competition with all the other girls,” Jaelyn said. “But I felt pretty confident because that’s my best event.”
Jaelyn’s injury is known as accessory navicular, which is a condition with the foot where an extra bone or piece of cartilage is present at birth. This condition can go unnoticed unless aggravated by a trauma or excessive activity or overuse.
Although there wasn’t ever a significant trauma or fall, the rigors of gymnastics caused the bone to fracture. The injury was masked by the fact Jaelyn has Sever’s disease, which is consistent pain in the heel and foot of growing children. It’s similar to Osgood-Schlatters
Disease in knees.
Jaelyn was already having trouble with her foot, but it when the pain became more severe, Brian decided it was time to get it check out.
“Her foot always hurts but midseason it got more severe, and we finally found out it was a fracture,” Brian said.
“With injuries we are not going to push girls, though. So they decide if they want to do it, but if we know the best thing is to not go through with it, we shut them down.”
Jaelyn pushed though the pain because she didn’t want to see her chance at winning state be stopped by an injury.
“I thought it was worth it to tough it out,” Jaelyn said. “I was thinking positive, and trying my best to finish it.”
After returning from the state meet, Jaelyn’s foot was placed in a cast so the bone could heal.
Now 11 years old, she is healthy again and back in the gym, working toward next year’s competitive season, which begins in January.
“She’s doing some rehab trying to get back to 100 percent,” said Jaelyn’s mother, Kerri. “We are taking it one step at a time to work toward Level 8.”