WPIAL gymnastics champion Jones stays positive with career in doubt

Saturday, December 30, 2017 | 11:00 PM

Katrina Jones sat at the first gymnastics meet of the season, holding a clipboard while watching her teammates lose to defending WPIAL champion Moon.

Next year, she hopes, she will be holding on to the bars.

There's always adversity in coming back from injury. But for Jones, it's a return that might never happen.

From a 5-year-old who tumbled at Jewart's Gymnastics in Hampton Township to owner of the best all-around score in WPIAL championship history last February, Jones' dreams of Junior Olympic gymnastics competition and college scholarships might have been dashed by a broken sternum that eventually required two of her ribs to be removed in June.

“I was obviously devastated,” said Jones, a junior who was injured in the summer of 2016 after crashing on the bars but fought through pain in high school and other competition. “I wanted to continue my high school season and put my Junior Olympic training aside. It was 20 hours a week and year-round. But I'm still in a lot of pain.”

Jones saw a thoracic surgeon and was diagnosed with slipping rib syndrome, a condition in which the cartilage on the lower ribs slips and moves. Doctors said returning to gymnastics could be dangerous.

Jones, a once-aspiring ballet dancer, however, never has been one to sit still.

“She was such a rambunctious kid,” said Lainy Carslaw, an assistant gymnastics coach at Jewart's who has known Jones since she started. “She could not keep her hands on her lap, was always moving around, bouncing, running, singing. The kid is just so full of energy and life.”

Though she didn't have the attention span for ballet, Jones certainly could move — and she did just that. She worked her way up the ranks, competing for the Pittsburgh North Stars out of Jewart's from level 4 to level 10.

“Instead of trying to control her,” Carslaw said, “we just let her run with it and let Katrina be Katrina.”

That strategy worked. By the time Jones reached level 9, Carslaw knew she had something special. Jones reached USA Gymnastics Level 9 nationals.

“I think the biggest turning point for Katrina was making Level 9 nationals,” she said. “Only seven kids out of seven states in the region qualify. She was alternate as an eighth-grader. Instead of complaining, she said she was going to make it the next year, and she did.”

“That was definitely the year I felt I did the best,” Jones added. “I had previously done OK at gymnastics but never placed highly.”

Jones reached nationals that year and reached Level 10 status. As a freshman, she finished second all-around at the WPIAL meet. And last February, Jones scored a record 38.925 in the advanced division to take WPIAL gold, winning on the beam, bars and floor exercise. She missed a clean sweep by finishing second in the vault by 0.025 points — all while battling the effects of a broken sternum that had not healed.

Jones's high tolerance for pain mirrors her mental toughness and ability to battle adversity, which her coach said comes from her single mother, K.J.

Carslaw considers K.J. to be “tough as nails” and said Katrina and her mother always will be an unbeatable team, regardless if she is competing in the gym.

“Katrina always keeps fighting and never complains,” she said. “Life gives you what you can handle. The two of them are like a little team, and it's really cute.”

Love for the sport has kept Jones involved. She spends her time coaching 4- and 5-year olds at Jewart's — perhaps looking to find the next Katrina Jones.

“I think I'll definitely always have a connection to gymnastics,” she said. “I probably won't coach for the rest of my life but will watch on TV. If I were to go to a college with gymnastics, I would be interested in a team management position.”

Jones has ruled out Junior Olympics if she were to make a comeback, as she would be too far behind in her training. But she left the door open to competing during her senior year at Hampton, when the season is shorter and the training less rigorous.

“If it turns out I don't need any more surgeries and the doctors say it's OK, I would like to compete my senior year. But that's pretty up in the air.”

Regardless, Jones doesn't plan to be sitting still.

Devon Moore is a freelance writer.


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