Because of my orthopaedic care, I can return to competitive gymnastics.
In December 2009 Zoe was 9 years old and a second year level 5. She was excited for competition season and had a great mock meet, she was ready. Then something unthinkable happened, she fell from the high bar… head/arms first. Her teammate Amanda recalls, “I was on the floor in the corner near the bars. I heard someone scream and turned around. I knew it was bad when ALL the coaches were around Zoe. Then the ambulance came and put her on a stretcher. The whole gym was quiet and we all just watched as they took her out.”
Zoe was rushed to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. That was a long night in the emergency room, Zoe had injured both arms. She was admitted to the hospital and went to surgery the following day – a 6 hour long surgery. We were all certain that gymnastics for Zoe was over. Dr. Charles Mehlman her orthopaedic surgeon says, “Zoe was a superlative 9 year old gymnast who sustained the worst combined elbow injury I have ever seen in over 20 years of orthopaedics.” On December 10, 2009 she suffered a fracture-dislocation of her left elbow and a double fracture of the right elbow, along with nerve damage on the right. Both of these elbow injuries required major pediatric orthopaedic surgery. Either of these injuries by themselves could have easily ended the career of an average gymnast, and both of them together would all but guarantee the inability to return to competitive gymnastics. But as we all soon witnessed, Zoe was not your average gymnast.
Zoe first cried when she realized that she wasn’t competing that season…never realizing that she may never be able to do gymnastics again. Dr. Mehlman and her parents never said to her that it might be impossible. Zoe had full arm casts on both arms for almost 5 weeks; the left arm remained casted an additional 5 weeks. With both arms casted she required help with everything – eating, dressing, bathroom, school work – but Zoe didn’t let that stop her. Less than 2 weeks after surgery, Zoe was at the gym with both arms in casts. At first, all she was cleared to do was watch, cheer, and “assistant” coach. She attended every practice, all 16 hours each week. She went to every session of every meet that season with her team. State was a tough meet to attend and a very emotional day. Zoe’s teammate Amanda described her as determined, brave and loyal. At the end of year team banquet, Zoe received the Character Counts award. An award voted on by coaches and gymnasts. For the first time in the 25 year history of the gym, one of the most prestigious awards of the year was awarded to a compulsory gymnast in an almost unanimous vote. This added fuel to Zoe’s fire and drive!! She was determined to not only compete the following season, but to move up and compete as a level 6.
Therapy was a long road. She worked with physical therapy, exercised at home and worked with the trainer at the gym. Jason, Zoe’s physical therapist said, “Zoe showed amazing patience, courage, and perseverance, especially early on in her rehab. She came to therapy everyday with a positive attitude and a willingness to work hard. Each week we would set goals for Zoe and she conquered each of those on her way to a very successful and amazing outcome.” She was doing something everyday, it was exhausting. It was hard work and painful, she needed to gain back strength and range of motion in both arms. As she got clearance to start something, Zoe was in the gym that day at practice to workout – even if it was just leg lifts, sit ups and mountain climbers in the beginning. It took a long time to progress to things like forward rolls, crab walks or bridges. Her coach was amazing and created a variety of workouts as she progressed – Zoe’s mantra printed at the bottom of every workout, “Stay focused, keep looking forward, YOU choose the outcome of your story.” Kim her trainer at the gym had this to say, “Of all the athletes I have worked with over the years, Zoe stands out in my memory. She was determined to push herself through her rehab. She would come in to the athletic training room and tell me what her goal was and when she wanted to achieve it. Every goal she set for herself she achieved, many times prior to her goal date. Yes, Zoe had a great team to help her on her road to recovery, but I give her the full credit for where she is today, because she took the tools that were given to her and utilized them. For a young lady she faced challenges on a long road to recovery, but she always kept her goals in mind and never gave up. That speaks volumes for Zoe’s character. Anyone who knows her cannot help but be inspired by her.”
Zoe had a lot of trust in her trainer and therapist. She was making great progress. Just before her 10th birthday, Zoe got the news that both her physical therapist and trainer at the gym were leaving. She was crushed at first, but then decided that Jason and Kim got to work with 9-year-old Zoe, the girl rehabbing from 2 broken arms. Robyn and Lauren get to work with 10-year-old Zoe, the gymnast preparing to compete. Lauren said, “Zoe has made incredible progress in her strength within the past year that I have worked with her. Her bubbly and imaginative spirit has kept her positive, as well as distracted when working on exercises that are particularly uncomfortable for her. Her journey back to gymnastics is admirable and I am proud of her for continuing to push herself to new levels.”
Zoe’s gym family is amazing. They were there every step of the way, encouraging every little baby step forward. Affectionately referred to as “Zoe’s Mom-tourage,” they would constantly text their excitement of Zoe’s accomplishments at practice when her mom could not stay at practice…even sent a video of her first kip on bars. Her teammates were just as incredible. Her teammate Kelsey had this to say, “I will always remember how encouraging Zoe was to me and her entire team even when she wasn’t able to compete for the season, I knew I wanted to do my best for myself, but for Zoe too. Zoe has overcame so many fears and pushed through hard times. She’s the best example of perseverance to all the gymnasts at CGA. I am proud to call her my teammate and friend.”
We had hopes that Zoe would be able to compete one or two events by mock meet, 11 months from her date of injury. She shocked us all and was ready to compete in all 4 events at the mock meet. Of all things, she was starting on bars. Just as the day the ambulance took her away, there was silence across the gym as she stood there waiting to salute to the judges. As she dismounted the bars and saluted the judges, an uproar of cheers filled the gym and tears of joy filled many eyes. Two weeks later she competed in her first meet of the season, on the one year anniversary of her fall from the bars. She scored her career best all-around score!! That year at state, she placed 4th all-around. An amazing comeback for a gymnast that wasn’t suppose to be able to return to competition. Her teammate Emily said, “Zoe never gave up. I admire her for being strong and never giving up her dream of doing gymnastics, even when people said it would be impossible.”
Mary Lee Tracy, owner of CGA and elite coach said, “I am so happy and thankful to see Zoe Bruce acknowledged for her outstanding courage, perseverance and discipline to get through a double injury. From day one, I observed a child on a mission to get back to gymnastics no matter what the obstacles were in front of her. It was never an option for Zoe to give up or whine about how long it would take. For such a young child, Zoe’s cheery and uplifting attitude through such adversity was such an inspiration for me and everyone around her.”
Zoe was born with bilateral hip dysplagia (one hip almost no socket, the other about 50%). She was placed in the harness by 3 weeks old and out by 6 months old. Because the dyspalgia was discovered at birth and she was in the brace early – her hips corrected nicely and current xrays show no evidence of dysplagia. I am amazed and grateful for all that Cincinnati Children’s Hospital has to offer.
Zoe recently had a homework assignment to write about the luckiest thing to happen to her. She wrote about breaking her arms. She said although it could sound like the worst day, it was actually the luckiest. She learned a lot about herself. She learned how much she really loved gymnastics and that with determination, hard work and strength of character, she can achieve anything. This experience will always be a part of who Zoe is, but she is no longer “Zoe the girl that broke both arms.” Zoe is now the girl that can overcome any obstacle through hard work and determination because she is a Warrior!!
This summer Zoe decided to do track and field with her brother for the first time. They had a lot of fun and she qualified to the USA Track and Field Junior Olympic National meet for Turbo Javelin (smaller javelin for the younger age groups). She placed 1st at the State meet, 3rd at regionals and 34/50 at the National meet throwing her personal best! The Junior Olympic meet was a fun experience.