A serious injury. An uncertain future.
Middleton High School gymnast Madeline Pflasterer-Jennerjohn had been down these roads before.
When Pflasterer-Jennerjohn was in seventh grade, she had surgery on an extreme case of scoliosis and was sidelined from fully competing in gymnastics until just before starting high school. Middleton’s gymnastics coach, Kari Steck, admitted she was uncertain about Pflasterer-Jennerjohn’s chances to succeed in high school.
“I definitely knew she was a talented gymnast, but I also knew she had just come off of a serious surgery,” said Steck. “I had seen her X-ray. That was scary.”
But Pflasterer-Jennerjohn proved resilient then — and again this season. In her first meet of the 2016-2017 season, Pflasterer-Jennerjohn suffered a serious ankle sprain that kept her out of competition until February.
“She says ‘ankle sprain,’ but it was really, really bad. It was the most swollen I’ve ever seen a body part get,” Steck explained. “We didn’t know if she would make it back.”
But she recovered, and this weekend Pflasterer-Jennerjohn will join the team at the Wisconsin Rapids Lincoln Fieldhouse for Middleton’s sixth straight team state appearance.
Pflasterer-Jennerjohn had looked forward to another successful season after last year qualifying for individual state and helping Middleton qualify for team state for the third year in a row. She finished seventh in all-around competition at last year’s state meet.
After injury struck again, coach Steck said Pflasterer-Jennerjohn remained as focused as ever. Steck said the injured gymnast still came to every practice and even started to help coach other team members.
“I just took it week by week,” Pflasterer-Jennerjohn recalled. “I started doing a lot of bars coming back and then each week my ankle felt a little bit better and I added in events. And then eventually at conference I was able to do everything.”
Returning to her first full meet, Pflasterer-Jennerjohn finished first on the uneven bars and third in the all-around to help Middleton place third at the Big Eight conference meet.
With Pflasterer-Jennerjohn healthy again, the Cardinals geared up for sectionals. But injury woes struck once more, this time almost sidelining Dani Aranda, Pflasterer-Jennerjohn’s friend and fellow team captain.
“About two weeks ago, I found out I had a second-degree stress fracture in my fibula,” Aranda said Monday.
Channeling the perseverance she saw in Pflasterer-Jennerjohn, Aranda competed in every event last Saturday, helping Middleton win its home sectional and clinch a sixth consecutive team state appearance.
Pflasterer-Jennerjohn also had her share of individual success during the Cardinals’ season-best, 139.325-point performance. She won the all-around with a score of 37.100, edging other talented area gymnasts such as Madison East/La Follette’s Tyra Turner and Big Eight Conference Gymnast of the Year Celia Ramsey.
Coach Steck credits Aranda and Pflasterer-Jennerjohn, both seniors, for overcoming setbacks and leading the team to state.
“In regards to both of their injuries, they are pretty serious. And that says a lot about both Dani and Madeline’s drive and determination,” Steck said. “If either of them hadn’t competed, there is no way we would have made it to state.”
With team state competition taking place on Friday and individual competition scheduled for Saturday, Pflasterer-Jennerjohn will have two final opportunities to impress once again.
Even though she feels lucky to compete at all this year, Pflasterer-Jennerjohn said she remains focused on the task at hand: working to perform at the highest level.
“I still have some places I can improve on, so hopefully I’ll be able to work on that this week and be ready for state,” she said.