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Thursday, May 23, 2024
<p><span>Junior Alaina Johnson performs her routine on the balance beam during Florida’s 196.575-190.55 victory against Ball State on Jan. 4 in the O’Connell Center. Johnson competed for the first time since Jan. 18 at the NCAA Regionals on Saturday.</span></p>
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Junior Alaina Johnson performs her routine on the balance beam during Florida’s 196.575-190.55 victory against Ball State on Jan. 4 in the O’Connell Center. Johnson competed for the first time since Jan. 18 at the NCAA Regionals on Saturday.


No. 1 Florida’s Alaina Johnson has been cleared to participate in gymnastics after missing eight meets because of a stress fracture and stress reaction in her lower back. However, Johnson’s availability as Florida tries to claim its first national title under coach Rhonda Faehn is still in question.

Johnson, an All-American in 2011, averaged a 9.88 on each of her uneven bars performances prior to her injury. Just this past week, she has been training uneven bars although it is unlikely she’ll return before the NCAA Regionals.

“When I first started back (practicing), it was really sore and that was normal because I haven’t done anything with my back for six or seven weeks,” Johnson said.

She also began activity on vault on Tuesday but will not train balance beam or floor for the remainder of the season.

But coach Rhonda Faehn has not ruled out the possibility of Johnson competing in the NCAA Regionals on April 6.

Faehn said Johnson was able to participate in warm-ups prior to Florida’s matchup versus Utah on March 16 during a press conference on March 18.

Added Faehn: “I don’t know if she’ll be ready for SECs; we still might not push that for sure because we only have two training days, but I would feel fully confident that she’ll be ready for regionals.”

Johnson was anticipated to be one of Florida’s four all-around gymnasts along with Ashanee Dickerson, Kytra Hunter and Bridget Sloan at the start of the season. Against LSU on Jan. 11, Johnson competed on each apparatus and produced a 39.30 total score.

The All-American missed a total of eight meets, including the Southeastern Conference Championships on March 23, after sustaining both a stress reaction and stress fracture in her lower back following Florida’s contest versus Missouri on Jan. 18.

Dr. Robert Decker, a spine specialist at the University of Florida, cleared Johnson on March 12th. During her recovery, Johnson actively used a medical brace to strengthen her abdominal and back muscles.

A lower-back stress fracture, otherwise known as Spondylolysis, is the most common overuse injury in sport.

Spondylolysis is a defect or fracture of one or both of the wing-shaped parts of a vertebra, according to WebMD.com. These “wings” help keep the vertebrae in place.

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Dr. Robert Watkins, a board-certified orthopedic spine surgeon with great renown in sports, said a doctor is unable to do anything in particular to make the fracture heal. According to Watkins it either heals or it doesn’t.

The key, Watkins says, is to concentrate on function and core strength so the athlete maintains the ability to perform in his or her sport.

Since suffering the injury, Johnson said she is resigned to the idea that her role has changed.

“The season hasn’t gone the way I’ve wanted it too but it has definitely been a struggle,” Johnson said. “I knew my role had changed for the team, and even though I knew I wasn’t competing I still supported my team 100 percent.”

The Tyler, Texas, native has dealt with stress fractures before, according to Martin Parsley, Johnson’s coach at Texas East Gymnastics. She suffered a stress fracture in her shin in 2010 following the World Championships selection camp.

She also battled stress fractures in both her ribs and shins during her 2011 campaign at Florida.

But Johnson says she has never had an injury as prolonged as this.

“I’ve had injuries that have kept me out of gymnastics but it wasn’t during season,” Johnson said. “It was definitely a struggle … and nothing I’ve been through or experienced.”

Junior Alaina Johnson performs her routine on the balance beam during Florida’s 196.575-190.55 victory against Ball State on Jan. 4 in the O’Connell Center. Johnson competed for the first time since Jan. 18 at the NCAA Regionals on Saturday.


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