Second on vault and eighth all-around at the 2010 U.S. Championships, Vanessa Zamarripa of UCLA is determined to recover from a recent Achilles' tendon injury and resume her career — even at the international level.
Zamarripa's rise to a position on the U.S. national team last year was sudden and strong. Born Aug. 1, 1990, in Redlands, Calif., she was raised in Illinois and competed as a Level 10 gymnast for the Midwest Twisters club. (Level 10 is USA Gymnastics' second-highest level of competition, just below the Elite or international level.) She was the Junior Olympic (Level 10) all-around champion in her age group in 2003, 2004 and 2007. Zamarripa earned an athletic scholarship to UCLA, where she enrolled in 2008.
As a freshman in 2009, Zamarripa placed third all-around at the NCAA Championships. At last spring's NCAA Championships, she won vault and helped UCLA win the team title. In July she entered her first Elite meet — the CoverGirl Classic, a qualifying meet for the Visa (U.S.) Championships — and placed seventh all-around. Zamarripa went on to place eighth all-around at the Visa Championships and thereby earn a spot on the U.S. team. Zamarripa's excellent Cheng Fei vault (round-off, half-on, layout Rudi — Click here for video) on the first day of competition earned her second place on that event behind Alicia Sacramone.
Zamarripa continues to aim for international success, despite tearing her left Achilles' tendon while tumbling on Dec. 7, 2010. IG spoke with Zamarripa at the Pac-10 Showcase, held Jan. 9 at UCLA, where she outlined her plans for recovery and beyond.
IG: How exactly did you injure yourself?
VZ: I was working on my 2 1/2 twist, punch layout. Everything was feeling fine. I wasn't overtraining or anything because I was coming off a minor injury of my foot. I was tumbling and felt a pop, and that's when I knew I tore it.
IG: How long until you can train at full strength again?
VZ: There's not much pain. I'm starting rehab on Wednesday (Jan. 12). I'm not quite sure yet, but they said I'll be able to apply 20 percent of my body weight on my foot, and then progress from there. They said I should be able to train again toward the beginning of summer, but the surgery went really well and they expect a full recovery.
IG: When do you think you'll be ready to compete the Cheng Fei vault again?
VZ: I guess it all depends on how things go, but the doctor said that, when I recover, I'll be just as good as, or even better than, before. There's no setback to this injury.
IG: What kind of feedback have you received from (U.S. national team coordinator) Marta Karolyi and the other U.S. team officials?
VZ: They seemed really concerned about my injury. Kathy Kelly (USA Gymnastics' Vice President of Women's Program), for example, emailed me and was wondering how I was doing, and wanted me to let them know my recovery process and see how I'm doing with it, and just keep them up-to-date.
Recovering from a torn Achilles, Zamarippa provided commentary at the Pac-10 Showcase held Jan. 9 at UCLA.
IG: Do you plan to return to Elite?
VZ: Absolutely. There's not a doubt in my mind. I definitely still want to pursue that, and compete internationally and do everything I can do.
IG: Having to miss the current NCAA season and wait till summer to start training again, how are you staying motivated?
VZ: I look at my teammate, Brittani McCullough. She tore both of her Achilles', and to me she's really inspiring because she came back really strong. She ended up being the NCAA floor champion (in 2010). What also keeps me motivated is that it's something I've always wanted to do since I was young. Something like this (injury) is not going to get in the way of me pursuing my dream.
IG: How did you adjust so quickly to Elite competition last summer, after a long NCAA season and no experience at the Elite level?
VZ: When I compete, it's just gymnastics, no matter where I compete or what it's for. It's still the same thing. So when I competed individually again, it wasn't that big of a difference to me.
IG: Besides vault, how much do you think you can contribute to the U.S. team?
VZ: I would definitely love to contribute on every event. When I competed at Classic and Visa [U.S. Championships], all my other routines except for vault were basically my college routines, so I didn't really do too much upgrading. So once I do, I feel I can contribute a lot.
IG: What advantage do you feel you have as a collegiate gymnast competing Elite?
VZ: I guess a lot of people feel that, once they come to college, they have to choose between Elite or college. Or maybe they feel they've passed their prime, because girls are usually at their best when they're about 16. I feel that, when they come to college, they think they're not good anymore. But that's not true. We have more experience when we're in college, and I think that puts us at an advantage.
IG: How much do you feel staying at Level 10 helped prolong your career and enable you to add new skills in your 20s?
VZ: When I came to UCLA, I was pretty healthy. So I feel that being at that level made me a stronger, better person, because I wasn't all beaten up by the time I came here.
Vanessa Zamarripa is featured in the following issues of International Gymnast magazine:
June 2009 - 2009 NCAA Championships coverage
June 2010 - 2010 NCAA Championships coverage
September 2010 - 2010 Visa (U.S.) Championships coverage
To order back issues, click here.