Issabella “Izzy” Erdem knows where she’s going to compete today. Exactly what she’s going to compete with depends on how she feels.
The Central Valley sophomore, along with the rest of the Lady Bears gymnastics team, competes today in the Class 4A regional meet at Mount Rainier High School in Des Moines, but her body will dictate what elements are included in her routine.
It’s the way this season has gone for the team’s most seasoned, and successful, gymnast.
“She may be a sophomore, but in gymnastics, she’s kind of an old lady,” CV coach Kim Brunelle said. “She was a high-level club gymnast – the kind of athlete I never thought I would have on a high school team. But her body took a pounding. She has high-level skills, but her body doesn’t always allow her to utilize them.”
Erdem began club gymnastics at age 7 and success came swiftly. She was 12 when she won the state championships at Level 7 – an impressive feat. She was the state champion on the floor exercise three times and twice on the vault.
But gymnastics is a tough sport and young bodies wear out quickly in a sport that requires high aerial maneuvers and precision landings on each of the four disciplines: floor exercise, vault, balance beam and uneven parallel bars. Wrists, ankles, knees and backs all take a pounding and inevitably revolt.
For Erdem, the injuries began cropping up – ironically, before regional meets.
“In club, regional meets aren’t like they are for high school,” she explained. “Regional meets come after state meets and they cover a bigger geographic area and they’re always tougher meets.”
She had a leg placed in a cast right before one regional tournament. Before another she simultaneously sprained both ankles on the same vault.
“I had to quit club gymnastics because of all the injuries I had towards the end,” she said. “I have a really bad back and we just found out that I have a stress fracture in my lower back.”
That’s the contradiction of the sport. The competitors are still just young girls, but their steely resolve can put even a hardened adult with a high pain-threshold to shame.
“You kind of have to get used to it,” she said. “When you’re competing in club, you have routines and repetitions that you have to perform every day in practice and if you don’t get them done, you don’t compete. They will occasionally make some adjustments if you’re injured, but you still have to get your work done.
“I used to be better at not letting it get to me.”
After today’s regional meet and, barring injury, next week’s state meet at the Tacoma Dome, Erdem plans to hang up her leotard, at least for a while.
“It will probably be a three- to six-month recovery,” she said. “I have a very active family – we’re always doing something. I’m not sure what I’m going to do with myself.”
Not one to give up or back down, Erdem figures there will be a silver lining in this ordeal.
“I will probably need to compete wearing a back brace, at least for a while,” she said. “That can actually help because it makes you be mindful of what you’re doing and you end up being stronger and stand straighter. It works that way on the beam. I wear a knee brace and that actually makes some of my moves feel stronger and more solid than they do without the brace.”
For now, however, Erdem’s routines have been fluid by design.
“We’ve been tinkering with her routines all year long – in fact we just changed it (Wednesday),” Brunelle said. “It all depends on how she feels.”
“We’ve changed my vault because it’s less painful for my back,” Erdem said. “It’s still a good vault and it still should score well. But it’s not as good as the vault I used to compete with. And we just changed my beam routine.
“I’ve been working with my old club coach and taking some extra lessons in addition to competing with the school team. He helped tailor my routine.”
Brunelle is convinced her Bears will be represented at next week’s state meet, even if it means traveling across the state for the regional meet and once more facing Mead, the defending state champion.
“This has been a great team to work with this year,” Brunelle said. “They’re such a fun group to work with. Izzy is such a talent, and our other top all-around, McKinzie Carter, is a freshman who was also a very good club gymnast. She’s absolutely fearless and incredibly determined.
“This group will do well. And then we’re going to get healthy.”