Brittany Petzold smiles through the pain
Senior gymnastics co-captain Brittany Petzold has been dealing with pain the last two seasons, though it's unlikely many fans and judges would recognize it.
Petzold finished last season as a Mid-American Conference Co-Gymnast of the Year, first team all-MAC, and ranking No. 1 in all-around in the conference. She set personal records in vault, uneven bars and floor last season.
This was especially impressive, considering Petzold spent the previous summer recovering from shoulder surgery at the end of her sophomore year. She suffered from an increasingly nagging shoulder problem that made the already pain-intensive sport excruciating.
Her recovery reflects the toughness of gymnasts, a quality that can be overlooked when focusing on the grace of their sport.
"It is exceptional for a gymnast to come back – everything that we do involves the shoulder," said head coach Jerry Reighard. "I'm glad the season didn't last longer than it did, because I was sure she wouldn't. When she would go to put her arm over her head, it wouldn't extend the full distance. Bars is probably the most difficult thing for her because she releases, flips and catches from about eight feet, and it stretches everything."
Petzold received no relief over the course of the season, facing grueling competition after equally strenuous physical therapy. The nature of gymnastics calls for making routines look easy, even if the athlete is forcing back tears.
"It was extremely hard. I had to do a lot of rehab and therapy," Petzold said. "It was really hard mentally, because I wasn't used to ever being out of the roster and it was really challenging to get myself back into the lineups."
Reighard took his time in reintroducing Petzold to the gym, keeping her in only one or two events for almost half of her 2013 season. After her return, the injury seemed to be a non-issue. Petzold went on to put up her most successful season yet.
Reighard admitted he did not want to use Petzold in the all-around until late in the 2013 season, but she insisted she was ready. He said her tenacity was what persuaded him to let her compete earlier than he planned.
"I'm a really hard worker in the gym and out; I always have this drive to do the very best I can," Petzold said. "I love competing all-around. I love having all the pressure on me."
She scored an impressive 9.8 in floor against Wisconsin-Eau Claire two meets ago on Jan. 5. She achieved that high score the last six meets of the year last season.
Petzold competed in the all-around against No. 24 Maryland last Friday for the first time this season, scoring a 39.175.
The upset resulted in the Chippewas earning a national No. 22 ranking.
Earlier this week, she faced another hardship that might limit her use this season. Petzold injured her ankle training for a floor routine in practice.
Reighard said the trainers believe it to be a minor ligament strain and does not appear to be significantly stretched. The hardest part for Petzold won't be the pain from her body, but from watching her teammates compete without her.
“She is a lead by example sort of captain,” Reighard said. “If I asked her, she would go. That young lady loves to compete; bars is by far her favorite event, and we're having a hard time handcuffing her."
Petzold will not see the floor in competition against William and Mary at 7 p.m. on Friday's Royal Rumble and Tumble, being saved until MAC play.
As the 2014 season moves forward, CMU gymnastics will rely on the experience of returning veterans from its last successful MAC campaign.