Kiersten Clowes couldn’t take her natural abilities for granted anymore. Months on crutches reminded her of that.
So, with a torn ACL in her right knee, she fell in love with her craft all over again. And by doing so, the Palmer Ridge senior made it to the state finals in the uneven bars event, capping an extraordinary high school career.
“It was kind of a blessing in disguise,” said Clowes, who began the high school season less than three months after having surgery to repair her torn ACL. “I wasn’t giving 100 percent in gymnastics. My thought was I was good enough to beat some and others were just better. But after I tore my ACL, I realized how much I loved gymnastics. I couldn’t take this for granted – suddenly everything in my life changed.”
In June 2012, the charismatic gymnast landed awkwardly on a floor exercise at a University of Denver camp. It was the first time Clowes, who’d been performing since age 3, had been injured in the sport.
After an MRI, followed by surgery, nobody expected her to compete for her high school team.
Not even her.
“I was really depressed,” she said. “I’ve never had to be on crutches before that. That was weird. I’ve never really been hurt before that. I didn’t know what to do. I needed a change.”
That change started with her mindset.
Instead of sitting her senior year out, she chose to perform under Palmer Ridge first-year coach Kathy Clowes, her mother.
“It was a very special year,” said Kathy Clowes, who owns a gymnastics studio in Monument. “Just to see what (Kiersten) overcame and how she performed was great to watch as a coach and mother.”
In September, Kiersten cautiously began work on the beam and bars, which would be the only events she could perform during the high school season.
“At first, I just kind of rolled off for my finish because I couldn’t land on my (right) leg,” Kiersten said. “I remember being so nervous about putting pressure on it. I was just really nervous.”
And for good reason. The average recovery from an ACL tear takes nine months or more. Kiersten was flipping and twirling her knee in one-third of that time.
“The doctors kind of said it was OK,” Kiersten smiled, “but I did more than they would have wanted.”
As the season progressed, so did her knee. She wowed coaches and teammates with a gutty-season performance that ended in state honors.
“I’m a stronger person for it. This made me a stronger person,” said Kiersten, who placed 16th in bars in 5A competition. “In school I’m doing better. I’m competing better and learning to be a competitor.”
Today, she says her knee is feeling 100 percent.
As she finishes her last semester in high school, she has her eyes on colleges where she could compete in gymnastics – DU being the favorite.
No matter how things shake out in the coming months, she’ll never forget the injury that has brought her so much happiness.
“It was the best thing that has happened to me,” she said.