PALATINE – St. Charles co-op senior Alissa Buono had wondered if she could reach the state meet in her first year of high school gymnastics.
Once she qualified on vault, the bigger question was would she be able to compete in Friday’s preliminaries. Battling the flu and breathing issues, Buono persevered and landed both of her Tsukahara vaults for a 9.125 and 32nd place.
“I woke up four times [Thursday night] and I still competed with a fever. It was still good for being sick,” Buono said. “I had only two minutes for warmups. I went really fast. That’s when I started feeling really lousy and second guessing. I knew if I would not compete I wouldn’t forgive myself. I drank a lot of water and then rested and competed and it was pretty good.”
Buono landed her tuck and then higher-value pike Tsukahara without any practice. Taking steps on both landings, she even came close to her qualifying 9.3 from the Wheaton Warrenville South Sectional.
“I’m so proud of her, just how lousy she was feeling, because that was such a huge accomplishment for her,” first-year St. Charles co-op coach Natalie Przybylski said. “It really was remarkable. She’s the type of person that no matter how her turn is, it’s never good enough. After she saw her scores, she’s like, ‘I’m so proud of myself.’ ”
Buono defied the odds just to compete this season on vault and uneven parallel bars. She resumed gymnastics following a back injury that she said doctors thought might end her career. She quickly emerged as a standout and leader as her new team’s only senior.
“Basically I was out all summer and then to come back in November and pick up everything and compete again was one of the greatest feelings,” Buono said. “I’m just grateful to compete vault and bars and to make it to state. I’m beyond happy.”
Starting to feel sick Wednesday, Buono did not practice and stayed home from school at St. Charles North and practice Thursday. Before leaving for state Friday morning, Buono attended St. Charles North for a state breakfast and parade with teammates around the halls, complete with a drum line.
“It was really cool. And I was able to enjoy it,” Buono said.
State warmups were challenging. Buono felt out of breath, her legs weary, chest heavy and throat “on fire.” One reason was Buono left her water bottle in the practice gym. For competition, the bottle was nearby, allowing her a sip between vaults.
“It was obviously all up to her [to compete],” Przybylski said. “Right after warmups, she said, ‘I want to push through.’ Being the athlete she is, it wasn’t surprising to me.”
The performance was another gymnastics lesson for Buono, who coaches at St. Charles Gymnastics Academy and is considering college club competition. “I’ve learned that I can get through anything,” Buono said. “It always seems really tough in the moment, but to get past it is so worth it. It’s been really fun.”