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John Orozco: Just Keep Going

By John Orozco, 2012 U.S. Olympic Gymnast | Sept. 29, 2014, 6:51 p.m. (ET)

Since the P&G Gymnastics Championships about a month ago, things have been pretty up and down for me. My main priority after the competition was to visit home and look after my mother, Damaris. She was still in very bad shape, especially from having her surgery delayed for so long. I was relieved to be home, making sure that I was helping my mom in any way she needed, along with my three older brothers and my dad. Being an elite gymnast, I’m used to dealing with physical pain on a daily basis, but what hurts me more is seeing someone I love in pain and not being able to help them relieve it. After a few necessary days at home and a confirmed date for my mom’s surgery, I was ready to leave my mom in the hands of my family to look after her once the surgery was over.

World team camp was only a few weeks after P&Gs. We had to show our readiness and decided which athletes will compete on which events for the preliminary competition and team competition at world championships. Our world team camp was combined with the national team camp, which was very encouraging to have the whole national team in the gym, cheering us on while we went through our mock competition or what we call an “intrasquad.” During camp, my mother was finally able to receive her much-needed surgery on her knee. It was one of the most complicated surgeries the doctor has ever done on someone's knee. The surgery took 7-8 hours to remove the old knee replacement and put a new one in. She called me crying one night while she was still in the hospital and said "I just want to go home, I can't take it anymore. The pain is too much.” It broke my heart to hear that over the phone and not be able to be there. That night I said a prayer for my family and friends. I would have gladly endured the pain for my mom so that she wouldn't have to suffer. Despite my anxious state of mind regarding my mom’s health, I managed to stay positive in the gym and trust in faith that she would be OK.

We wrapped up a successful world team/national team camp by going to a restaurant to watch a football game. The next week routines were shaping up and the details of my skills and technique were improving. The next morning I planned to do a hard practice of routines for every event, but when I woke up it felt as if someone had taken a hammer while I was asleep and smashed the top of my shinbone just under my kneecap. I could barely stand up without pain and when I tried to bend it 90 degrees I almost cried. What bothered me the most was that it was on the same side as my torn ACL and meniscus. I immediately rushed to the sports medicine clinic on campus of the U.S. Olympic Training Center (OTC) in Colorado Springs, Colorado. I was struggling to walk as fast as I could to the clinic. All I kept thinking was, “I’m just sore, I just have to ice it.” After being evaluated at the clinic, the medical staff scheduled an ultra-sound appointment and X-ray to further investigate what was causing the pain.

There did not seem to be a clear explanation for the pain or how it seemed to come out of nowhere. I walked back to my room furious at the situation, thinking “How did I go from training full routines and feeling perfectly fine, to then waking up the next morning and not being able to stand up?” I could barely contract my quad muscles and standing up caused this tormenting pain in one exact area on my shinbone. I had a mini freak-out in my room and started thinking, “What am I going to do if I can’t compete at worlds?” I was leaving for China in less than four days. It felt like similar to two years ago when I inured my knee. I started thinking about what I would do if I had to withdraw from worlds. After a few hours of panning out the different scenarios of what I would do if I had to withdraw from worlds, I went into the medical clinic for an MRI that would tell all. After practice, I went back to the clinic to hear the results of the MRI. I was elated to learn that it was the best-case scenario: an inflammation in my leg. The doctor and medical staff at the OTC cleared me to continue training for worlds.

I resumed full training the following Monday after taking the weekend off to rest my knee. The anti-inflammation medication is working perfectly and it almost felt as if it was back to normal. I even posted an Instagram video of me training vault at my last practice before getting ready to leave for Nanning, China. My favorite part about international competition is seeing all the good friends from all over the world and seeing how all the different cultures mesh in the gym and outside of the gym. Usually before big competitions I browse the Internet for a new motivational quote to be the motto of my trip. I found one that fits my mood going into world championships: “Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final.” -Rainer Maria Rilke.

I chose this quote because no matter how many times I’ve done a routine or how confident I am, there is always a little bit of nervous energy that surges through my body right before I compete. When that nervous energy waves through my body, I’m going to remember to let it happen and embrace it; however, when I’m competing in front of thousands of people, it feels both terrifying and beautiful at the same time. I’m going to enjoy it and just keep going.

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John Orozco