Ashley Lambert hopes her 2012 season in gymnastics will have a happier ending than 2011.
The level 10 gymnast with the World Class team was enjoying another successful season, with a state all-around title and regional crowns in the vault and floor exercises. A scholarship offer from a large Division I school in the Southeastern Conference was on the table.
One week before junior nationals last May, she almost lost it all.
Doing some less-structured activity after practice one day, Lambert suffered a career-ending type of injury, one which left her with a C1 cervical vertebrae broken in two places in her neck, as well as a broken C6 vertebrae.
To understand the seriousness of the injury, actor Christopher Reeve became paralyzed after breaking his C1 bone when falling off his horse during an equestrian competition.
Lambert wasn't aware of the seriousness of her condition and continued to practice. Her mother Tonia Lambert came to pick her up, and, as she recalls, found her daughter "doing crunches and crying." However, she did not want to make World Class coaches Tami Harrison or Jon Angle aware of her pain.
Later, at home, Tonia recalls spending 15 minutes trying to pop her daughter's neck, thinking it was simply jammed.
"I could have killed my child and didn't even know it at the time," she said.
But as soon as Ashley complained that her left eye had gone numb, the mother quickly knew what had occurred.
"Right then, I knew it was neuro (related)," Tonia Lambert said.
Four hours after leaving practice, the pair headed to an emergency room and after several hours in the waiting room, Tonia was approached by the doctor.
"He came to me and said, 'I have some good news and bad news. Which do you want to hear first?'"
She wanted the good news first.
The doctor told her "it is by the sheer grace of God that your kid is walking and talking." The physician said Ashley survived because of her physical condition and her youth."
Quickly fitted with a halo device, Lambert's dream looked to be over. Gymnastics appeared to be a sport of the past, replaced by the halo to stabilize her neck and a lifetime of shattered dreams. It was assumed that just getting her back to normal activities would be the new goal.
But after spending two-thirds of her 17 years in competitive gymnastics, Ashley Lambert was not ready to call it quits. Recalls her mother: "We had a conversation about it and she said 'What else am I supposed to do? I have been doing this my whole life.'"
The biggest concern was with junior year approaching, it was time to get back to the gym. The junior year of high school is usually the most crucial, particularly in gymnastics, as most of the scholarships are awarded by the end of 11th grade.
After six months of training, averaging 30 hours a week in the gym, Lambert returned to competition in January. In only her second competition, she placed second in two events and qualified for the Level 10 regional meet, which is being held this weekend in Allentown, Pa.
Now her larger goal is to qualify for Junior Nationals, which will be held May 10-13 in Hampton. At this point, Ashley says she is "just getting back to where I was last year."
For more information about Ashley Lambert, visit her website at http://www.gym-style.com/ashleyCopyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times