Saturday was big for the Detroit Lakes High School gymnastics team. The Lakers are the three-time defending Class 1A state champions, and Saturday they proved to be the top team in the state regardless of school size by winning the Minnesota Girls Gymnastics Officials Association Classic.
In the meet at Park Center, Detroit Lakes finished ahead of the top two teams in Class 2A, Lakeville North and Lakeville South. The all-around champion was Detroit Lakes sophomore Jackson Hegg.
Most people may not have noticed one member of the Lakers team who didn’t really stand out unless you looked closely. Kennedy Hegg, Jackson’s twin sister, did not compete Saturday because she had been fighting an illness, but she was in uniform as she stood with her teammates and cheered.
Her right arm was different, however. Kennedy wore a large apparatus that extended from her wrist to her upper arm. It affected her mobility somewhat, but nothing can limit her desire to be with her teammates and compete … not even two broken arms.
The story began when Kennedy was a seventh-grader in her first year on the Lakers team. She had won the all-around title at the first two meets of the season, and was warming up on the uneven bars during the third competition when she fell. She extended her hands to protect her head, and bones snapped in both arms.
Immediately, it was clear that her right elbow was out of whack. But her left arm was also hurting.
She said to the people who had rushed to her aid, “ ‘Would you hold my arm?’ And they were like, ‘We ARE holding your arm.’ I said, ‘No, my other one.’ And as soon as they grabbed it, they knew it was broken, too.”
She had a severe fracture to the right forearm and both bones were broken in her left forearm. The worst spot was the right elbow; it was fractured, ligaments were ripped. It was bad.
“She was a mess there for a while,” said her mother, Monessa Hegg.
Four surgeries followed, along with nearly three years away from gymnastics. Kennedy’s left arm is back to normal but the right arm remains a work in progress. The bones in her right arm had to be re-broken and reset after the initial cast was removed, pins and other assorted hardware were inserted, and a section of the radius bone was removed from the elbow to allow more movement and less pain.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Lakers coach Steve Zamzo.
Kennedy is unable to put much weight on her right arm. That means no bars, no vault, no floor exercise. She’s back to competing on the beam this year and has hopes of someday doing floor exercise. Her beam routine includes one-armed cartwheels, which she hopes to upgrade to a more difficult cartwheel back tuck.
“I’m planning on working harder to do a better series,” she said.
“I can’t do anything with two arms, really. I can do my hair and stuff like that. I can still do beam and I’m so blessed that I can still do beam.”
And then she added with a smile, “It could always be worse. My left arm is perfectly fine.”
Kennedy (and her sister) also competes in diving as well as track. Kennedy is basically a one-armed diver, tucking her right arm in as she comes off the board and into the water. She has been a competitive gymnast since second grade, and being back with the team this year has been an important step.
“My teammates are my best friends,” she said. “They’re all there for you whenever you need them. They’re an amazing team.”
Doctors said the damage to her right arm is permanent, and Kennedy cannot lift anything heaver than 40 pounds or she risks more fractures.
“It’s scary, and it’s hard to keep her out of the gym,” Monessa said. “The doctor said, ‘If it’s this important to you, you can go on the beam.’ She wanted permission to do floor as well, but the doctor said with the impact of flipping it would be hard to withstand the blow.”
Zamzo called Kennedy “a very talented athlete, and the sky was the limit for her. She understands her limitations. She knows she isn’t able to do things with her arms. That just pushes her. If she sticks the routine, it’s phenomenal.”
Kennedy indeed stuck the routine in her first competition this season after all that time away from the sport, scoring a 9.4 on the beam at the Jackie Mann Invitational in Perham.
“That was really huge for the team, it really brought them together,” Monessa said of Kennedy’s return to competition.
“There were lots of hospital stays and recovery time. I can’t say enough good things about Gillette Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis, and her doctors and nurses.”
Kennedy knows she is providing inspiration to others who face setbacks.
“People say that they’re so happy that I’m doing this, that I’m so inspirational. For anyone who gets hurt, it’s motivation to come back. You can still do it, even after what happened.
“I had no doubts. I wanted it, I just wanted to do it. I saw my teammates all succeeding through state and stuff and I wanted that, too. That just pushed me more.”
And if Kennedy should finish this season by competing at state? The answer is easy.
“I’d be so happy.” Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn