University of Wisconsin - La Crosse junior and former Laker gymnast Molly Lyngaas’ career has been a lesson in perseverance to say the least.
Injuries have plagued Lyngaas since becoming the Lakers’ only state all-around champion as a sophomore in 2015, the same year as the first of DL’s five straight team titles.
An injury of three broken bones suffered on a fall from the balance beam that year brought the first surgery and a diagnosis from three different doctors that she would never compete again.
“In some ways it seems like a lifetime ago, but in other ways it seems like just yesterday when it happened,” she said. “Sometimes I can still feel the emotions of the doctors telling me I couldn’t do gymnastics anymore and it just makes me all the more grateful that I still get to do it in college today.”
The injury led Lyngaas on a unique recruiting path to La Crosse. Eagles’ head coach Kasey Crawford was in attendance at the camp.
“She saw it all, heard it all and was there for all of that,” said Lyngaas.
The injury was a big life lesson.
“It taught me so much at such a young age,” she said. “What I’ve learned from that is if I put my mind to something I can achieve it against all the odds. I decided to work hard to come back from it and it ended up paying off in the end. That’s something I can carry into my future, as well.”
The odds have been stacked against Lyngaas routinely.
She did not compete for the Lakers her junior season.
“We didn’t know if I was going to come back from it or what the plan for the future was,” she said.
Her all-around career was over, but Lyngaas was able to specialize on uneven parallel bars coming back her senior season.
“My mindset coming back for my senior year on bars, I just wanted to help the team in any way I possibly could,” she said. “If that meant just doing bars, that’s what it meant to me.” After hearing from three different doctors that I couldn’t do gymnastics anymore, I was just more grateful than anything to have a small bit of it.”
Despite finding success at college, including qualifying for nationals this year, 2017 in DL remains a highlight of her career.
“The year before that, it was so unknown,” she said. “Working hard that year is what brought me to La Crosse and led me into my future now.”
Lyngaas contacted Crawford to discuss her transition from an all-around gymnast to a bars specialist and her desire to compete at the next level.
“We talked about what that meant for my future and we decided to go ahead,” said Lyngaas.
The transition to collegiate gymnastics came with its own challenges.
“That was a little bit tough because you grow up with the same team,” she said. “I knew the Laker gymnastics team since I was five-years-old. You’re under the same coaches the entire time and being in such a small town, I was so comfortable here. It was a little shaky at first getting used to everything. It was tough to make a lineup my freshman year. I was in and out and trying to fight for that spot. What I learned from Laker gymnastics is you do everything you can to help the team and if that means being the first alternate that’s what that means and I was going to do everything I could to help the team in that position as well.”
Midway through her freshman season in Wisconsin, Lyngaas found out she needed another ankle surgery. She rehabbed and came back better.
“I worked hard over the summer to learn a more difficult dismount that would help the team more and raise my scores,” she said.
On her second day of the sophomore season, she broke her other ankle on that dismount.
The ensuing surgery took out the first three months of practice and the season, before a return for the last half of the year, but without the new dismount.
After another rehab, she got right back on the bars.
“I had two years under my belt fighting for my spot in the lineup,” she said. “I really wanted to make it a strong year and went back to the difficult dismount. That really helped me out this year.”
Lyngaas made it through this season with both ankles intact. She landed a spot on the NCGA All-West Region team earning a spot at nationals.
The injury bug was again waiting for her.
She tore the labrum in her hip and was supposed to have surgery at the end of this season. The procedure has been postponed due to COVID-19.
Her career is again in jeopardy.
“I’m just taking things day by day,” she said. “If I’m able to compete next year, the biggest thing is having another year like this year, continuing to grow and helping the team win a national championship.”
The only way to get through five surgeries and keep competing is to have a strong mindset. Lyngaas has had that since she was a kid and hopes to compete again.
“We’re pretty much grandmas in the sport,” she said. “You don’t go much later than 22, 23-years-old. We focus a lot on the mental side of the sport and the sport is more mental than physical at this point.”
Lyngaas is an exercise science major prepping for pre-physical therapy in pursuit of her doctorate degree.