Kaylee Arnold loves vaulting, but her zeal for gymnastics might not have been enough to sustain her this year without another force at work.
Arnold also is determined to show that she’s a tough cookie, to put it gently. That the hobbled St. Charles co-op senior gymnast still is competing, all the way to this weekend’s IHSA girls gymnastics state meet berth, is proof positive.
“It’s a little bit of both,” Arnold said of her motivation to keep competing through chronic ankle pain. “It’s kind of funny, at sectionals, after I got done competing, I had to go put on my boot, and everyone was looking at me like I was crazy. Not too many people compete in all four events and then go throw on an ankle boot. It’s kind of like, ‘Oh yeah, I’m tough.’
“I just want to prove to myself I can push past it but also I love vault and I’m glad out of all the events this is the one I [qualified in] senior year.”
A St. Charles East student, Arnold is in her third year with the St. Charles co-op team after previously focusing on club gymnastics.
Her junior season was marred by a severe, grade-3 ankle sprain before regionals that knocked her out of postseason competition. Arnold re-sprained her left ankle early this season, turning the past few months into a test of will every time she launches into the air, knowing the aftermath will not be pleasant.
“It kind of hurts to walk on it but nothing like if I’m flipping and if I land short or something,” Arnold said. “But luckily at meets there’s the adrenaline and excitement to just kind of push the pain aside and focus on what I need to do.”
Arnold will be joined at the state meet – which takes place Friday and Saturday in Palatine – by teammate Jesi Ortiz, an at-large qualifier in floor exercise. Geneva’s Ashley Puff also made the state field in the balance beam and floor exercise.
After earning her first state qualification at last Wednesday’s Glenbard North Sectional, Arnold took the rest of the week’s practices off, a concession she occasionally has had to make to accommodate her latest sprain and a bone bruise to boot. Arnold said she’s had to “water-down” her skill set this year, focusing on the bars and beam at most meets as opposed to the higher-impact vault and floor exercise.
That’s been an unwelcome development for Arnold, who considers herself more power gymnast than a graceful one. Her above-average quickness and explosion is central to her vaulting success.
Despite all the injury-related adversity – even aside from her ankle woes, Arnold previously battled injuries such as a fractured growth plate in her elbow and a broken thumb – Arnold said she’s relished her high school gymnastics experience, which came about largely thanks to lobbying done by former St. Charles gymnast Shelby LeDuc.
“You’re more involved with the school and obviously it’s nice not having to practice the ridiculous hours I was practicing in club,” Arnold said. “It’s a fun atmosphere. ... I’m not used to the whole team concept.”
Illinois and Marquette are her college front-runners, but Arnold said this weekend will mark the end of her competitive gymnastics career. She is keeping her goals for the state meet straightforward – enjoy the experience and do her best.
In Arnold’s case, making it this far was way more than half the battle. She credits her parents, Tim and Lori, for coaxing her along.
“My parents are definitely the kind of parents that tell me, ‘Suck it up, you have one more year left,’ ” Arnold said. “My dad was a football player and my mom did sports, too, so they get the whole, ‘Injuries don’t stop an athlete.’ They’re the ones that give me a bucket of ice and then expect me to go to practice the next day.”
Kaneland’s Noel, Callaghan to reunite: Kaneland football senior defensive lineman Ryan Noel has selected Saint Joseph’s (Ind.).Noel will be reunited there with former Kaneland standout Tyler Callaghan, a tight end for the Division-II Pumas. Saint Joseph’s is located in Rensselaer, Ind.
Noel, who played offensive line for Kaneland before switching sides of the line as a senior, also considered Wisconsin-Platteville, where teammate Quinn Buschbacher is headed.
• Jay Schwab is sports editor of the Kane County Chronicle. He can be reached at 630-845-5382 or firstname.lastname@example.org.