When Lacy Dagen stuck her vault routine in Gill Coliseum Jan. 19, the applause that met the redshirt junior was the first she’d ever received in her time at Oregon State. In fact, it was only her second applause in her four-year collegiate gymnastics career.
At first glance, it would be hard for anyone in the crowd to think this was Lacy’s first outing since recovering from her most recent surgery. Scars on both knees, however, give a glimpse of the pain and adversity she has had to overcome since starting her career at the University of Florida in 2015, to her OSU transfer in 2017.
Lacy’s injury-riddled college career has unsurprisingly faced several setbacks, surgeries and struggle. But three separate injuries in four years could never keep her away from the sport that she loves.
“I was looking at pictures the other day of my knees all scarred up from right out of surgery and thought, ‘Woah, it’s been a really long journey,’” Lacy, who specializes in vault, balance beam and floor, said.
Her journey has consisted of two ACL tears in two years during her career at UF, resulting in two surgeries—one of which involved taking the patellar ligament out of the healthy knee to replace the injured one. One year later, her meniscus split in half, leading to her last surgery in February 2017.
Since then, Lacy has worked slowly to regain strength: both mental and physical. Lacy remembers the discouragement that weighed on her—the feeling that her body had failed her.
“After that second tear, I lost myself for sure. I didn’t want to do it anymore,” Lacy said. “I stopped eating, I literally stayed in my room all the time and didn’t want to do anything.”
After her second injury, Lacy and her family started to consider the possibility of a release from UF. To Paige Dagen, Lacy’s mother, a transfer was the best way to get her daughter a fresh start, injury-free.
“She wanted to have a little college glory, a grande finale to her lifelong gymnastics career,” Paige said. “The only way she was going to get that finale is if she was in a program that was patient and allowed her to get more healthy.”
Cue Oregon State. Lacy’s younger sister Madi, now an all-around freshman at OSU, had already committed to the Beavers. After Lacy had been released by the University of Florida, Lacy and her family reached out to associate head coach Michael Chaplin.
“We were really excited,” Chaplin said. “We knew what type of person she was, not just athlete, and we knew that she would be a great asset to our program.”
Lacy has spent the past year recovering, only performing exhibitions in 2018, which don’t count towards competition points. She debuted her vault and beam routines Jan. 19 in Gill Coliseum, receiving of 9.825 for vault and a beam score of 9.250.
“I feel good,” Lacy said after the meet. “I feel like we have a lot of improvement to go, but this was a really good stepping stone in our long journey this season.”
The beam was an especially big step for Lacy, as it has historically been her best event, Paige said.
“She was always the beam queen,” Paige said. “She’s been very good at it forever. A big piece of it, however, was she has to stop questioning her knee.”
Lacy’s recovery has not solely been physical. She has had to overcome her fear of yet another injury. Lacy remembers having nightmares about hurting herself again while still at UF. Since her transfer to OSU, however, the nightmares have ceased. Lacy attributes much of this to her relationship with Chaplin.
Chaplin, who has also sustained several injuries during her collegiate career, connects with Lacy on this level.
“It’s just believing again, that was the biggest thing,” Chaplin said. “Believing in what you are capable of doing, believing that your body can still come back and do something after injuries like she’s had.”
Despite her mental setbacks, Lacy’s dedication to the sport didn’t allow her to quit. A look into her history with gymnastics speaks to how serious she is about competing.
Both Lacy and Madi have competed most of their lives. Lacy was five years old the first time her mother enrolled her at a local gym.
“That local, smaller gym didn’t know what to do with her,” Paige said.
Paige, now a high school teacher in Pleasanton, Calif. coached cheerleading when Lacy was young. The older girls would teach Lacy about gymnastics and show her different moves.
“She had so much natural ability and she’s already picked up so many things,” Paige said. “More than that, Lacy was incredibly focused. They could not believe for her age how serious and intense she was.”
Lacy’s intensity carried her through middle school and high school, competing in Elite Gymnastics, the path to the Olympics, for three years. Gymnastics became her full-time job— she didn’t attend school and trained for 35 hours a week, traveling to Texas every month for training camps.
She decided college competition was a more reachable goal for her, and committed to UF at the end of her freshman year of high school. She performed one vault routine at UF before her first ACL tear in 2015.
The long journey to recovery was not undergone by herself, however. Standing right beside her at every meet, during every injury? Lacy’s mother.
“My mom has been so invested in this it’s unreal,” Lacy said. “She has literally gone through all of this with me. This has been her sport.”
Paige’s investment in her daughters’ gymnastics career will continue through this season and the following, as she vows to attend every single meet.
“I will not miss one. I will be there for all of them,” Paige said. “I will not miss a single meet, and she (Lacy) knows that.”
Paige and Lacy will be at the Beavers’ upcoming meet Friday, Feb. 2 in Gill Coliseum, as Lacy hopes to compete in vault and beam again.
“I’m taking every opportunity to embrace what I have done, how long of a journey it’s been and where we’re headed,” Lacy said.