For Penn State junior Sidney Sanabria-Robles, this season hasn’t been just any typical season. It was her comeback to competitive gymnastics.
A torn patellar tendon she sustained before even stepping onto a college campus kept her out of action since before 2011. Before becoming a Nittany Lion, Sanabria-Robles was set to compete at Louisiana State University.
She believed the main culprit of her injury was overuse. The moment she knew for sure was during a club gymnastics practice.
“When I tore it, I was doing vault and I was running,” Sanabria-Robles said. “One of my last steps before the hurdle, I felt it crack when I pushed on the leg.”
With the injury, her future in gymnastics had been left in doubt.
“I wanted to do events [at LSU], I saw doctors there,” Sanabria-Robles said. “They did everything they could to help me get better, but my knee wasn’t working correctly.”
Surgery came into consideration but after talking to doctors, she was told the success percentage wasn’t high enough for her to consider undergoing the operation.
She had then rested it and thought it’d be okay, but the doctors at LSU gave her a medical hardship.
According to the NCAA sports medicine handbook, the team physicians have the final responsibility to determine when a student-athlete is removed or withheld from participation due to an injury. Clearance is also up to the physicians.
With this hardship, the LSU doctors advised she should never do gymnastics again.
“I didn’t compete my first year and rested my second year,” Sanabria-Robles said. “I still kept working on my knee because I didn’t want to give up gymnastics.”
The Caguas, Puerto Rico native then had a decision to make. She could go to school on a free scholarship at LSU and give up her passion of doing gymnastics or pursue another school that would possibly give her a chance to compete but pay her own way through college.
“I basically went to LSU because of gymnastics. Even though my school was paid for, it was a really hard decision to make,” Sanabria-Robles said.
She talked it out with her parents and they analyzed everything together.
Her father, Ismael Sanabria-Robles, knew how important gymnastics were for his daughter and how she felt.
“I was very sad for her,” said Ismael. “I knew she was always a great competitor and this injury prevented her from going out there and competing.”
At the time, they didn’t agree with the decision from LSU. So they went to an off-campus orthopedic surgeon for about three to four months to get another opinion.
The doctor’s medical opinion was that he believed she could do gymnastics again.
When it came down to her final decision, she didn’t want to give up what she had loved doing since she was five years old.
“My parents always wanted the best for me and to be happy,” Sanabria-Robles said. “They knew that me doing gymnastics would make me happier than just going to school and not being somewhere I wanted to be.”
Sanabria-Robles chose to apply to Penn State for her junior year and emailed coach Jeff Thompson after she got accepted to see if she could make the team.
Thompson talked to the LSU coaches and learned about her medical scholarship.
“I asked her why in the world she wanted to give up free school to pay her own way out of state to go here,” Thompson said. “She told me it was because she wanted to do gymnastics and they wouldn’t let her.”
Thompson had Sanabria-Robles come in and get checked by the doctors. They had cleared her to do gymnastics this year.
“For a kid to pay her own way just so she could do the sport, that is the kind of kid I want on my team,” Thompson said.
The team gets injury reports at 9 a.m. every day on every gymnast. At first, Thompson thought he’d have to limit the LSU transfer. But she was able to hang right in there with the rest of the team.
“Coming back, it was tough to get my skills back. Eventually over time we kept working on numbers and trusting the coaches and myself that I could do it,” Sanabria-Robles said. “Eventually, I got all my skills back.”
Since it had been almost three years that Sanabria-Robles had seen competitive action, Thompson kept her out of the lineup for the first meet of the season and had her do only an exhibition as a way for her to perform in front of a crowd.
But on the week before their second meet, Sanabria-Robles impressed so much during practice that Thompson put her in the starting lineup in the all-around competition.
She put up a total score of 38.425 overall, reaffirming Thompson’s faith in her.
“She nailed her bar, vault, and beam routines. She did a beautiful floor routine, but on her landing she forgot to bend her knees and bounced into a pushup position,” Thompson said. “It was a small mistake but she hit 3 out of her 4 routines.”
Thompson said she was a huge contributor last weekend and expects her to continue week in and week out.
“It felt really good to compete again. You get anxious and nervous but excited at the same time,” Sanabria-Robles said. “I was really glad I could do my thing, help out the team, go out there and perform.”
Thompson wasn’t the only one that was impressed with her routine. Her teammates were there to cheer her on, as well. Junior gymnast Krystal Welsh has formed a strong bond with Sanabria-Robles and was happy to see her competing again.
“Her energy was high the entire time last weekend,” Welsh said. “She kept herself calm, collected, and did all four of her events like she did in practice. I was very proud of her.”
Sanabria-Robles has competed in the all-around for two straight weeks including last week’s quad home meet against Minnesota, Kent State, and Towson.
As far as her knee goes nowadays, the junior said it doesn’t really affect her. She ices it to stop from hurting. It bothers her some days but it doesn’t stop her from practicing or doing her normal skills.
When it comes to her expectations this year, she wants to hopefully keep doing all-around and helping the team out any way she can. She hopes the team can win a Big Ten title and go to nationals.
For anyone facing a roadblock for their dreams and aspirations, Sanabria-Robles has some advice.
“If you really want something, don’t give up no matter what anyone tells you,” she said. “With the support of family and friends, they’ll help you get through it.”