Gymnast Hatch Goes From Knee Surgery to Olympics
September 08, 2004
by: Diana Barnes-Brown for Knee1
Olympic Gymnast Annia Hatch had her work cut out for her as she prepared for the Athens Olympic Games: the day before the August, 2003 World Championships, she suffered a serious injury that kept her from competing for months.
Hatch was practicing a vault move and landed awkwardly, badly tearing two soft tissue structures in her left knee. As soon as possible, she had surgery to repair the damage, but even so, doctors told her it would be a minimum four months before she was back to normal – and that was only if everything healed as quickly as possible, with no complications.
Knee injuries are especially common for gymnasts, who have to land repeatedly from many feet in the air, an action that puts incredible stress on the joints. In Hatch’s case, the two structures of the knee involved were the anterior cruciate ligament and the meniscus, or cartilage. The cruciate ligament is one of four ligaments in the knee that prevents the bones from sliding sideways, backward or forward, and the anterior cruciate ligament is concerned with preventing the knee from sliding forward. Cartilage pads the joints to prevent damage.
With both structures badly injured, Hatch’s doctors decided the best course was surgery to repair the knee and sew the torn ligament back together. This meant a long recovery period, but for Hatch, it was worth it. Years before, the gymnast had already toyed with the idea of retirement: In 1996, the Cuban native began a five-year respite from competing to relocate from her home country to the United States and marry her then-fiancée, Alan. The Hatches were happy coaching gymnastics at Alan’s gym in Connecticut but, inspired by a former teammate who returned to training after having a child, Annia came back to the sport in 2001, and by the time of her injury, she knew that she wanted to do everything possible to continue with her competitive career.
Hatch surprised her doctors by being able to run, jump, and do floor tumbling with little trouble after four months, and by April 2004, she was almost fully recovered, though she was still avoiding a few exercises and wore a knee brace for vaulting. When she qualified for the Olympics, she was overjoyed. Hatch had qualified once before, in Cuba, but the cost of going was too high, so she was not able to participate.
This time, all the hard work, medical care, and rehab paid off: once in Athens, Hatch (who, at 26 years old, was already considered of the “old timers” of the team) went on to take the silver medal in the women’s vault, becoming the first American woman to win a medal in the event since Mary Lou Retton in 1984.
“If you keep healthy, you can keep going and going until you can't do it anymore,” she told the Associated Press in a June 2003 interview, two months before her injury. And, despite the difficulties, Hatch has proved that she plans to do just that.