At first glance, one might not assume gymnastics is equivalent to a contact sport like football when it comes to injury risks.
Don’t tell that to Puyallup High senior gymnast Summer Barrett.
Over her lifetime competing in gymnastics, Barrett has suffered a remarkable amount of injuries: two concussions, a broken toe, two wrist fractures, a grade 3 ankle sprain, a stress fracture that also tore ligaments in her ankle — as well as still dealing with bones chips in her right elbow.
But the laundry list of injuries didn’t slow the senior down during her final chance to compete at the high school level. Barrett put on a strong performance at state gymnastics last month at the Tacoma Dome, placing third on bars and tenth in all-around in the Class 4A individual results. Those results almost didn’t happen for the Puyallup senior after she suffered an ankle injury earlier in the season.
"I feel I did pretty good, but I felt I did better in years past," Barrett said. "I just happy I was able to make it to state and finish my season."
All the injuries are the main reason she’s heading into retirement after her club season with Roach Gymnastics. Barrett’s body just can’t keep up as she heads off to Central Washington University in the fall.
"I feel it’s time to call it quits after this year," Barrett said. "I’ve never been fully healthy (this year), and I was told by doctors to keep icing (my ankle) after I got back … it’s tough to go through that each year. Next year I want to put my full focus on my studies at Central."
Gymnastics may have broken Barrett’s body — but never her spirit — as it’s been one of the greatest journeys this Puyallup senior has embarked on.
If she had the choice, she would do it all over again.
"Maybe without the injuries," she said, laughing. "Gymnastics is super tough on your body — but I loved it. I loved going out there and performing … it’s just time for me to stop."
Now Barrett gets to retire on her terms. But that almost didn’t happen back in December when she took a spill during a Puyallup practice.
While working on her vaults, Barrett landed awkwardly and badly sprained her right ankle. As a co-captain with senior Hailey Halford, it was a tough sitting out doing waiting for the injury to heal.
"I still (tried) to help where I can," Barrett said in January. "I have a responsibility to be a leader."
Nothing could keep her out of competing, so when the news came, it was just affirmation on what she believed was going to happen.
"I wasn’t going to miss my final season," Barrett said. "I felt I was going to get back out there for the team — to be with them one more time."
Barrett didn’t come back at full health, but she competed through the pain anyway. Puyallup coach Dorinda Carpenter decided to ease Barrett back, opting to put her on the bars.
By working on the bars, it would put little strain on her ankle. Playing it safe wasn’t how Barrett wanted to go out this year. Sure, she didn’t want to get hurt again, she just didn’t want to hold back.
"I can’t fully extend my (right) elbow because of the bone chips," Barrett said.
Bars require gymnasts to have full flexibility and agility in their arms. Yet Barrett hasn’t had that ability in some time. When she originally hurt her elbow, the senior had to wear a brace that forced her to change everything she did before.
"It is different ... when I hurt my elbow, the brace that I wore restricted my movement," she said. "I had to relearn my routine(s) … with bone chips (and brace), you never have the ability to extend your arm like you used to."
Athletes who have to wear braces for a time never shed that feeling once it’s removed. It’s always there lurking in the subconscious, a quiet reminder of the injury. For a gymnast to remove a bulky item like a brace must make their limbs feel like their moving through mud.
"Since I’ve had my brace off, I still treat my elbow the same way — like I’m wearing the thing," Barrett said. "It’s hard not to think about it. You don’t want to do something to re-injure yourself."
Still, that mindset never played a factor as Barrett made her return. First she fought the sharp, stabbing pain of her elbow on the bars. Eventually she made it back to compete in the vault, floor and beam, something that was never thought to be on the table in December.
Barrett fought back and gained so much more than awards and accolades: She earned the right to end her career on her own terms, something many athletes never get the chance to do.
"I feel happy that I was able to come back and not let this my injury take away my final season," Barrett said. "I got to finish my season on my own terms. I feel blessed to have that chance."