Savannah Vinsant competes at the Olympic Games London 2012 on Aug. 4, 2012 in London.
It didn’t seem too unusual in mid-2013 when Savannah Vinsant, a two-time U.S. trampoline champion, announced she would be taking a small break.
She thought a couple of months off would restore her mind and body at age 19. She was coming off years of intense training, which culminated in her becoming the first American woman to reach an Olympic final, which she did at the Olympic Games London 2012.
Then life happened, in the best ways, and her “short break” turned into a quasi-accidental retirement.
She graduated from college. She married, becoming Savannah Thompson, and embraced becoming a step-mom to a little boy. She started coaching and judging trampoline. And she fulfilled her dream of opening her own facility, Hangtime TNT Gymnastics, in Scott, Louisiana.
Earlier this year, the 2010 Youth Olympian and 2012 Olympian felt it was time to address some big unfinished business — her own elite trampoline career. She wanted one more run at being the best in the world, and a big test in her burgeoning comeback comes this week. Thompson is part of the elite field at the USA Gymnastics Championships in Greensboro, North Carolina, facing stiff competition from stars such as 2016 Olympian Nicole Ahsinger and elite newcomer Alyssa Oh.
This will be the biggest competition of her comeback. She placed third behind Oh and Ahsinger at the Elite Challenge last month.
“This is a lot harder than I remember, because I am a little bit older, and during that time (away) I didn’t even work out much like a regular person,” Thompson, 25, said. “I was busy with life, I was focused elsewhere, but I never really intended to be gone for so long.
“I want to be here, I want to be doing this, I’m just taking this one step at a time. It is all starting to really come back now, as I get stronger and in better shape.”
Thompson was known for her power and technical skill in trampoline, building one of the best American résumés in the sport. She finished sixth at the 2012 Olympics, still the best result for a U.S. woman. In 2012, she took third at a world cup, marking the first U.S. woman to medal since 1996.
Now the Tokyo 2020 Games loom, with the prime training cycle in full swing. Thompson does not deny that returning to the Olympics is in the back of her mind, but she quickly adds it is too soon to even think about that. Checkpoints, such as this week’s U.S. championships, will dictate her future.
Getting back into world-class form has been challenging, especially the first month in the gym. Her focus is on gaining strength, fine-tuning and adding skills, increasing airtime, plus a serious new dedication to recovery and on-point nutrition.
“I was so sore the first week, I couldn’t even tip-toe out of my bedroom in the morning,” Thompson said, laughing. “It was all ice baths, 24/7. Recovery is everything. (It) never was a thing before, but wow, do you need to do it.”
Because Thompson has remained very active in trampoline, she knows what the judges are looking for and what her competitors are doing. She feels how her matured body flies differently than before, but she also notices her improved mental and emotional strength as a competitor.
“I am a woman now; my body changed from when I was a teen. But that doesn’t mean I still can’t do this,” Thompson said. “I have the mental strength and patience now of an adult; I am much more focused. The girls I will be competing against can’t have that life experience or maturity, because they aren’t there yet. I think that is a big plus for me.”
The challenges of coming back, especially with so many moving parts, are something she negotiates every day. Being a wife, mom, small business owner, coach and, now, an elite athlete in serious training, is a daily equation that is not always easily solved.
“I am still trying to figure what works,” she said. “I keep my family and my facility my top priority, ahead of my comeback. As I get more down the road with this journey, maybe I will need to change the equation a little to make it all work.
“I am only four months into this. I am really just doing this for fun, enjoying life, and living every day to the fullest. That’s where I find the joy.”
Joanne C. Gerstner has covered two Olympic Games and writes regularly for the New York Times and other outlets about sports. She has written for TeamUSA.org since 2009 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.