Mark of a Champion

Sophomore gymnast works her way back to full form after two surgeries, and now prepares for MAC Championship

Kasey Janowicz was poised to begin her sophomore season as one of the top performers on the Central Michigan gymnastics team. 

She was coming off of a debut season that ended with her receiving a Mid-American Conference Freshman of the Year award.

It seemed unimaginable that Janowicz would have to fight her way back to competing this year, but two major surgeries forced the all-around performer to miss out on some events for most of this season.

Gradually, Janowicz is making her way back and showing a new level of confidence and dedication to teammates and competitors alike.

"At the beginning, I only expected to have one arm surgery to see if it worked and get the other after the season,” Janowicz said. “My thought was: Am I going to be able to compete for CMU this season?”

A lifelong fight 

Janowicz, of Bay City, was born with compartment syndrome, a condition caused by pressure buildup from internal bleeding or swelling of tissues. Instead of the tissue in her body expanding to relieve tension in her muscles, it suffocated them, cutting off circulation to Janowicz's fingers, hands, arms and legs.

Janowicz’s first surgery was in October. That procedure left her in a cast up to her shoulder supported by a hard brace. She couldn’t move her dominant arm. She was in the cast for a month.

The following month Janowicz was due for the second surgery on her other forearm. Three days after her second forearm surgery, Janowicz was forced to return to the hospital again. She suffered a reaction to the staples put in her arm.

It wasn't the surgeries that bothered her the most. What she feared was missing her entire sophomore season.

“I’m in love with this sport. It’s the determination and passion I have,” Janowicz said. “I don’t want to hurt like I did last year, and I want get back into gymnastics. I love the competition and the adrenaline rush."

During her recovery, Janowicz said she received overwhelming support from her teammates. Sophomore Kailey Miller cut Janowicz's food when she couldn't use her arm. She gave her pep talks to help her cope with the injuries.

"(Miller) is my best friend," Janowicz said. "She is my go-to person and helped me through everything."

Janowicz’s story is of perseverance and dedication. She is making a comeback while inspiring her teammates in the process. Miller said she learned from Janowicz's ability to fight through adversity, the injuries and now she remains upbeat in the face of uncertainty.

"Overcoming injuries can be tough. Her positive attitude has helped," Miller said.

Journey to CMU

When Janowicz was just 2 years old, she would walk across the family’s piano keyboard. With that, her parents knew she had the makings of a gymnast, so they signed her up for the sport.

“Ever since then (gymnastics) has been part of my life,” Janowicz said.

Janowicz continued to pursue gymnastics throughout middle school. She decided to take a break from the sport during her eighth grade and freshman year of high school at Bay City Central because she wanted to be more social.

Bay Valley Academy club gymnastics coach Nancy Moore persuaded Janowicz to return to the sport her sophomore year of high school. Janowicz credits Moore for sending her in the right direction.

“(Moore is) strong-willed and determined and has motivated me to where I am today,” Janowicz said. “She’s the one who motivated me to get a college scholarship.”

Flash forward to 2014, Janowicz became a member of the USA Junior Olympic National Team. She was able to train with elite gymnasts at the USA Gymnastics National Team Training Center in Huntsville, Texas. Her success there led to 12 college scholarship offers, including the University of Michigan, Michigan State, Utah, Eastern Michigan, Western Michigan and Kent State universities.

When it came time to decide where she would spend the next four or five years, Janowicz sought a university that would feel like a familiar place. She decided on CMU in large part to her friendship with fellow-gymnast junior Macey Hilliker. The two were close friends and teammates in high school. With Hilliker already in Mount Pleasant, the decision to become a Chippewa was an easy one for Janowicz.

“I love the coaches and I love the atmosphere here with all the girls," Janowicz said.

Making progress 

One of the biggest challenges that head coach Jerry Reighard faced this season is holding Janowicz to the activities the doctor cleared her for. So far this season, Janowicz has competed mainly on the uneven bars and recently started competing on the balance beam. She has yet to compete on the floor or vault due to her injuries.

“(She's) one of my toughest recruited athletes,” he said. “Kasey is an extremely talented athlete and very energetic and always smiling, always showing a personality that’s contagious, and that makes it a lot more fun.”

Going into her freshman year, Janowicz competed as an all-around gymnast, where she excelled in all four events. Aside from winning Freshman of the Year, she was named to the All-MAC second team, leading the team with 28 top-three finishes and scored a 39 or higher in six of the 10 meets she competed in the all-around event.

“Freshman of the Year meant all my hard work was rewarded,” Janowicz said. "I didn’t come in (to the season) thinking that was my only goal. My only goal was to help CMU win and that was just the end reward of my hard work.”

Reighard saw Janowicz's hard work on display every day in the gym during practice and at meets.

“Freshman of the Year is an honor not many athletes get," Reighard said. "The special thing (about winning the award) was that the rest of the coaches in the conference chose her for her accomplishments.”

Even though she's limited in what skills she can perform during meets right now, it doesn't change Janowicz’s mindset during the events she is able to compete in.

“When I compete, I try not to think about what I’m doing," Janowicz said. "If I’m in the motion of doing one thing, I don’t even think about it until the end, then I'm like, 'What just happened?'"

Janowicz is getting closer to competing as an all-around gymnast each week, and the plan is for her to compete all-around by the MAC Championships in March. Reighard said he knows Janowicz will have no problem being full strength as the team prepares for the championships.

"I love gymnastics because I know that I'm doing skills that no one else can ever do," Janowicz said. "I always want to be the best. I don’t like losing, so (gymnastics) is definitely the sport for me.”

Now when she competes, Janowicz does so with joy despite the two elbow-to-wrist scars running up both of her forearms.

Those scars won't affect Janowicz. To her the marks on her arms represent her battle to continue to be involved with a sport she's loved since she was a toddler.