Beating the odds: UWL’s Molly Lyngaas overcomes multiple injuries to continue gymnastics passion

In the summer of 2015, Molly Lyngaas was a high school gymnast for Detroit Lakes in western Minnesota attending a summer camp in South Dakota. She was looking forward to her junior year, as her school had just won a Class A state title the season before, with Lyngaas as the all-around champion. At this camp she’s doing a floor sequence she’s done a thousand times, when the unthinkable happened.

“I was just practicing floor, just learning some skills on floor, and it was a skill I’d done many times before, so it was just a freak thing,” Lyngaas said.

“I remember seeing the whole thing,” UWL gymnastics head coach Kasey Crawford recalled. “It was just horrific.”

“It broke the bone into six pieces, so the blood flow got cut off to the bone, so I had to have surgery right away,” Lyngaas said.

After successful surgery, the doctors still had bad news.

“I think it was more disbelief,” Lyngaas said. “I couldn’t comprehend how severe it was. It was supposed to be career-ending. They said there was a 50 percent chance my ankle would make a full recovery and get blood flow back to it, even after the surgery.”

She took those odds, because she wasn’t ready to say goodbye to the sport. She thought after six months of recovery everything would be back to normal, but it wasn’t.

“The way the plate was put in my ankle, it was blocking my range of motion, so I had to have all the hardware taken out,” she said.

That second surgery knocked her out another six months, wiping out her junior year. To keep her career going, she had to become just a bars specialist to limit the stress on her ankle.

“I didn’t know if any college teams would want me just for bars. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to come back to all-around,” Lyngaas said.

“It’s really rare for us to take a specialist,” Crawford explained. “You’re taking up a spot for someone who can only do one thing, but I just felt she had the talent on that one event to have an impact.”

So the Eagles brought her into the fold, but the injury bug kept biting.

“Partly through my freshman year I took a bad landing on a dismount, and it hurt my ankle pretty badly,” Lyngaas said.

A part of bone from the initial high school injury hadn’t healed correctly, so it was removed. During this recovery, she started to get more range of motion in her ankle, and she developed a harder dismount for her sophomore season.

“My second day back at La Crosse, it was the first day I did the new dismount in La Crosse, and I broke my other ankle,” Lyngaas said.

“She had trained so hard to get this new dismount. It was her first rep in the gym doing it again, and she breaks her leg, and you’re like, what is going on?” Crawford said. “There wasn’t anything we could do to prevent it.”

“Honestly, I think this one was harder than when I broke my ankle in high school, because I knew what was coming,” she said. “I rely so much on this ankle because my other one is so bad. Now that this one is injured, I really didn’t know what that meant for my future in gymnastics.”

She had yet another surgery, and decided to use an easier dismount to compete the rest of sophomore year. But at their first meet, she took a bad fall.

“I was having a lot of hip pain but we were just managing it all season,” Lyngaas said. “I didn’t go to the doctor until July after my sophomore season.”

She discovered she had a torn labrum in her hip.

“I’ve never experienced a gymnast who’s had a torn hip labrum and come back,” Crawford said. “They usually end their career after it or get it done at the end of their career.”

But again, that’s not her style. Instead of surgery and another six months of recovery, she competed the whole year with the tear.

“The athletic trainers were amazing at helping me manage the pain, and it wasn’t too difficult to make it through the season,” Lyngaas said.

Lyngaas scheduled surgery in Minnesota for earlier this month. She’s still waiting for the procedure.

“Minnesota canceled surgeries all through April, and they’re rescheduling us based on when we were scheduled to have surgery before,” Lyngaas said. “I’m 18th on the wait list, so if they can start surgeries right away in May, I would assume the earliest I would get in would be the middle of May. At this point we’re trying to make the decision on if we want to go ahead with it or not.”

If the surgery is possible, she’ll get it done to get back on the bars. Coach Crawford says nothing will get in Lyngaas’s way.

“Other sports can have mental blocks, but we have athletes who can truly be afraid to come to practice that day,” Crawford said. “I think that’s been the biggest thing we’ve worked with Molly on, the reality that she’s had some major injuries, and she has to overcome that fear every day she touches the bars.”

Gymnastics is her passion, so no matter what the odds, she’s prepared to beat them.

“I love the sport. I love being a part of the team. I love how we work toward common goals,” Lyngaas said. “I think through all these experiences I’ve learned that not everything is going to work out exactly how you planned, and you have to learn to work with what you’re given and make the best out of every situation.”

Lyngaas is an exercise science major and intends to go into physical therapy.