When it comes to newcomer Sophia Thompson, Maple Grove gymnastics coach Shannon Hoover has just two wishes.
“My goals for her are to have her in a leotard and have her smiling the entire season,” Hoover said.
Sounds simple. But staying in gymnastics tested Thompson’s emotional, mental and physical strength. Knee injuries prematurely ended her past two seasons. Added drama came this summer as a family move from Bismarck, N.D., to Maple Grove upset her social circles.
Thompson lived in Minnesota on two previous occasions. But leaving friends and gymnastics teammates right before her senior year was not a welcomed change. She made trips back to Bismarck for the homecoming dance and to cheer Century High School’s first football state championship team.
“September was a really hard month,” Thompson said. “Letting go of friends, letting go of everything.”
Forging new connections through gymnastics gives Thompson hope that an emotionally turbulent fall becomes a winter of contentment.
She placed second on the uneven bars in the Crimson’s first meet last week. And Hoover noted Thompson’s broad smile.
Thompson, a former Level 9 gymnast on the club circuit, has the ability to compete at the February state meet. The brace on her left knee, however, is a reminder to take things slow.
She tore her ACL twice on the same floor exercise routine. The second injury came last Jan. 1, just hours after she made a resolution not to get hurt. In addition to repairing the ligament, doctors did a knee realignment procedure to prevent future damage.
The comeback started at Maple Grove, where Thompson worked out on the bars and realized how much she missed the feeling. While the floor routine is out — the same is likely true of vault — she can compete on bars and perhaps the balance beam.
“The next hurdle is being able to trust myself coming back from injury,” said Thompson, who also lost a season of gymnastics as a youngster due to a fractured elbow. “You have to learn to push the bad things out of your head and think, ‘I can do this.’ ”
Her poise comes from thriving in new situations. Thompson was born in Arizona. Her father’s job in the financial industry triggered previous moves to Blaine and Cloquet as well as Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The timing of leaving Bismarck proved most difficult.
“The first thing that comes to your mind is, ‘This is crazy; I’m going to miss out on everything,’ ” Thompson said.
Hoover encouraged senior gymnast Natalie Young to reach out to Thompson. Young is glad to see Thompson join the team.
“You’re more connected when you’re part of an activity,” said Young, who moved from club gymnastics to the Maple Grove varsity as a sophomore. “You don’t just go to Maple Grove. You are Maple Grove.”
A successful season, Thompson said, is about “just making it back and getting my skills back. I want to make it to state on bars.
“But really, I just want to enjoy my senior year, to enjoy my new team. They are all wonderful. And I want to be able to say I finished gymnastics — maybe not the way I wanted to, but I finished it.”