When it’s time to say when: Pipestone Area senior Kindra Douty makes toughest decision of decorated gymnastics career

Pipestone Area gymnast Kindra Douty spots as she throws the first tumbling run of her floor exercise routine Monday night (Jan. 6, 2022) in Pipestone. Douty won the event and the all-around title as the Arrows defeated the visiting Windom Eagles 124.7-122.65. Douty recently decided to end her gymnastics career early following a series of minor and serious injuries. K. Kyle

Sports and injuries go hand-in-hand.

Whether it’s a bruised, strained or pulled muscle, a sprain, a contusion or something more serious like a fracture or a concussion, an athlete in any sport can expect to be sidelined for as little as 15 minutes up to months or more – depending on the severity of the damage.

Because their bodies are usually in better shape and more muscularly toned than the average person, athletes regularly bounce back from injuries with rest, rehabilitation and/or surgery with haste; and those competing at a high level often try to heal as they continue to work on their specific craft.

Pipestone Area senior athlete Kindra Douty, who reached the pinnacle of her favorite sport, gymnastics, as a 2020-21 Class A state qualifier on the uneven parallel bars has had perhaps more than her share of injuries during her nine-year gymnastics career. Beginning with the Pipestone Rec Center program as a nine-year-old, moving to club gymnastics at Wings Gymnastics Academy in Sioux Falls, S.D. a year later and eventually joining the Pipestone Area varsity program as a seventh-grader, the 18-year-old Douty has suffered the breadth of injuries one can endure without having to throw in the towel – until this winter when she had to make one of the toughest choices any young athlete has to make.

“I don’t think it hit me that the injuries were too much until this year; before, I was able to push through ‘minor’ injuries and I’d heal once gymnastics was over,” said Douty, who competed in the final gymnastics competition of her well-decorated career, Jan. 26 in Pipestone. “That was always my mindset, and I was able to keep going until this year – my senior season.”

A sprained ankle as a seventh-grader hardly slowed Douty down, missing just one meet, and a concussion suffered at the Section 3A meet in Redwood Falls didn’t have considerable impact on her career due to the meet being the final competition of the Arrows’ campaign.

As a freshman, Douty had a couple pulled muscles that proved more annoying than hindering, but ironically the injuries the powerful, pint-sized, all-around aerialist sustained as a sophomore, when she qualified for the state tournament, proved both numerous and noxious to her future in the sport.

“I started the season off with a pulled hamstring, saw the trainer, had a deep bone bruise on the top of my foot putting the tumble track up at school, didn’t tumble for a week, threw a back tuck on the beam and sprained an ankle the next meet back; so, within two weeks and leading up to sections, I’m still trying to work on new skills,” Douty recalled. “I hit the bar (uneven parallel bars) with my gut and bruised my ribs going into sections. But I pushed through it the best I could. I thought I had a terrible bar routine, a terrible day, and didn’t compete on floor (exercise) because of my ribs – only to find out hours later I made it to state on bars. It was a huge surprise, considering how much pain I was in.”

However, with only the state tournament left in the season, Douty again muddled through and enjoyed the competition at Roy Wilkins Auditorium in St. Paul – knowing she’d have the spring and summer to heal before playing volleyball for the Arrows in the fall and competing in gymnastics in the winter.

Hoping to build on her state-tournament experience the following season as a junior, Douty started the 2021-22 campaign off well. A regular on the podium, as an all-arounder as well as in individual events throughout her career, Douty appeared to be on track to make an impact at the Section 3A meet in Marshall. She never got there, as an athlete, sustaining a dislocated elbow and a slight fracture of the radial (radius) head five days prior to the meet. Douty attended the meet in Marshall as a teammate and a sister, looking on with bittersweet tears as Kaysa Douty qualified for the state tournament in the floor exercise.

Without a second thought, Douty again looked ahead hoping to finish her career at the state tournament.

“I was told recovery process (for the elbow) was about six months, so my mindset was, ‘okay, I can do this… I’ve done it before,’” Douty said. “I started the summer off doing minimal stuff, before being cleared all the way midsummer. I thought I’d grind it out, get all these new skills I wanted for my last season and everything would be fine. My elbow never seemed to be a problem again, once I got cleared and rehabilitated.”

Coming back from the state volleyball tournament Sunday, Nov. 13, Douty was psyched to begin practice for her final season of gymnastics with the Arrows.

“It started Day 1, feeling pain in her back,” Pipestone Area head gymnastics coach Stacie Wallace said. “‘Oh, that was weird, I must have sat wrong on the bus coming back from state volleyball.’ It was evident that’s not what it was. It’s crazy that that struggle started Nov. 14, she did one round off and, ‘ugh, my back kind of feels… that hurts.’”

“The first meet came around, I’m warming up, and I hear a big pop!” Douty explained. “They initially thought I’d fractured my back, but then a specialist looked at it and found that I had not one, but two, bulging discs. They told me to take time off, a week or two, and ease back into it. I don’t really know how to do that and it’s very tough to do in this sport. And I started to become more and more anxious to get back on every event. Maybe it made it worse, but it was my last season ever… time to get going because I’d already missed out on so much.”

Pipestone Area gymnast Kindra Douty, seen here performing on the balance beam Dec. 16, 2021 in Pipestone, was never able to realize her dream of a second state-tournament qualification – choosing to end her career with three weeks remaining in her senior season. K. Kyle

As the pain continued to impact her ability to practice, let alone compete, Douty began to tug on the reins and limit herself to a couple of events in training – the bars and beam. Those events certainly put less strain on her back and also gave Douty the best opportunities to qualify for the state championships.

Still, Douty could feel the season slipping away with every painful dismount.

“It hit me after Christmas that I’d never do all-around again,” she said. “The doctors initially told me I’d be back full time after the New Year, but I couldn’t throw anything (skills) on beam, nothing like my junior year… was a watered-down routine that I wasn’t really happy with. It was like I was going backwards every time I dismounted. Same with bars, it was the same routine I’d had since my freshman year. I felt like I could do more, but couldn’t because of injury. I had to accept that and did for a few weeks, until it hit me that this wasn’t the way I wanted to go out – especially at sections; I didn’t want to go out with mediocre, average performances when my last season was supposed to be my best season.”

She tried to muddle through meets in Redwood Falls and Luverne, but following the Arrows’ dismal performance against Cardinal sides at both venues, Douty – who broke Pipestone Area’s 14-year hiatus from the state championships with her 2021 qualification on the bars – decided to go out on her own terms.

After a series of extremely difficult talks with her parents, Douty decided to end the competition side of her gymnastics career at the Arrows’ home meet against Jackson County Central, Jan. 26 in Pipestone.

“I’d started thinking about it a couple weeks prior; it started crossing my mind that it might have to be something that happened, but it really hit me at the Redwood meet,” Douty explained. “It wasn’t a great day, didn’t go well at all and when I was done, I was in the most pain I’ve ever been in. I was texting my sister, what do I do, quit or keep pushing through? I told my mom I wanted to see the doctor right away and see what my options were. After we left the doctor’s appointment I decided to be done. It wasn’t worth it anymore because I wasn’t healing. I was going backwards because I kept practicing.

“I had a good run; I reached my biggest goal, going to state, and had been competing since I was 10. One more month could make a big difference in how my back felt for the next 10 years… or more.”

And though her parents Joe and Alison Douty were disappointed their eldest daughter had decided to forgo the remaining four meets and the section championships, it was easier to accept because it had been her decision. 

“I could accept it more because it was a decision made on her own,” Joe Douty said. “Honestly, I think it was made before she went to the doctor’s the last time. She knew if the news was going one way she was going to go ahead and quit. The competitive side of me was disappointed, heartbroken for her, considering all the years she put into it and the love she has for it. Then, for her body to give out… it was hard.”

“Especially since she had so many goals after her elbow injury last season,” Alison Douty added. “She wanted to redeem herself and it became something that was out of her control. It was hard to watch her go through that; it wasn’t fun at our house for a couple months, seeing the struggle she was having inside and all the pain she was in physically. Mentally, it was a real grieving process for her… and us.”

And for Coach Wallace, who witnessed Douty’s strife firsthand – before and after the gymnast’s decision.

“It was crushing to see her work through it in her head,” she said. “Kindra knows enough about the sport to know that at some point she had to kick it into high gear or those goals she set for herself weren’t going to be attainable. You watched her go through, almost, those stages of grief, until she came to an acceptance that she wasn’t going to be able to compete. You could see her trying to grapple with that decision.

“To have the capacity to see that is amazing at her age. We think about gymnastics being an individual sport, but it’s also a very unique sport in that 7-12-grade is in the  gym together every day. So, it’s a very different team feeling. When a kid like Kindra steps aside, the other kids are going to have to rise up and get the experience and learn all they can so they can be a better all-around gymnast and be contributors this season and in years coming. It’s a mature way to look at.”

And the team aspect was, perhaps, part of why the beleaguered Douty took so long to actually say the words.

“The biggest thing for me was hitting that 131 (points) mark in Windom, and ‘Oh my God, we could actually break the (school) record this year,’ Douty said. “I thought, ‘Once I’m back, we’ll break it; me back in all-around and we’ll get there. But as I struggled for a couple weeks on bars and beam, I thought… maybe we’re not going to hit it with me, and I had to accept they’d have to be pushed on their own. I knew they had to work for it, not to replace me, but to keep the team score up. So, it was good to see those younger girls competing varsity in spots that I would normally occupy.”’

Still part of the team, Douty’s spot on it quickly became that of an assistant coach, helping those very youngsters that includes her sister Kaysa Douty who capped her eighth-grade season with state-tournament qualification on the balance beam and floor exercise.

With her state experience in 2021 and a breadth of knowledge in the sport, Kindra Douty had a unique vantage point as a player/coach of sorts.

“I saw this transition in her; there was this quiet period after she made that decision and coming into the next day and living it out was tough,” Coach Wallace said. “Even though she had made peace with it, she wasn’t doing something that she loved doing. Then I saw her shift gears; she had this unique position on our team to see the sport of gymnastics as an athlete and with the eyes of a coach while still being a teenager. To see her when she’d see somebody struggling with something on vault, to just say, ‘Hey, try this,’ or ‘Hey Kaysa, on your uprise you need to do this,’ was cool – cool she can step in as an athlete. I was a gymnast, but I’m 50. To hear it from somebody who’s been working beside them is a special way to receive input. And I was happy for her that she could do that. It was a cool opportunity for her.

“I am so proud of all Kindra’s accomplishments as a gymnast and I hate for any athlete to have to make the decision she made. My heart goes out to her.”

And outside of giving her sister tips in this event or that event, Douty’s internal struggle within an extremely exasperating campaign has offered guidance in itself, as the senior could probably write a book on coping with injury and adversity.

How will Kaysa Douty deal with an injury, if it occurs?

“I think we’ll know our answer only if it happens,” Joe Douty said. “Right now, she’s having the time of her life. She’s loving it, she’s doing very well and we don’t want to give her any fear. People don’t see inside of Kaysa, it scares her, but she handles that really well. So, there’s some good to come out of it in a way. Kaysa has seen what injuries do, so she works hard and does things in increments – works her way up to it.”

“In watching Kindra deal with her injuries there were a lot of lessons for Kaysa,” Alison Douty added. “Because Kindra limited her workouts, even though wanted to do more, Kaysa saw how Kindra took care of her body while still trying to compete – learned a lot watching how Kindra handled that. And give credit to the coaching staff for always letting us know when Kindra was hurting … ‘she’s in a lot of pain today, check in on her,’ because she wasn’t going to let us know. It’s nice to know that it wasn’t all about the sport, but about the people.”

While Douty hopes to secure a position as a manager with the gymnastics team at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa in the fall, she’s not yet finished competing in sports in high school. Douty, who joined the track team as a sophomore has been cleared to run sprints for the Arrows this spring. And, of course, there’s always coaching when she’s ready.

“I’ll go for an interview to see if I can become a manager at the Division I level,” said Douty, who plans on studying event management. “My Junior Olympics coach at Wings said if I wanted it, I could coach there – my second gymnastics family. We’ll see how it goes; it’s been a pretty emotional few weeks, with a lot of tears.”