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Excerpt: An Inspiring Story About Injury, Redemption And Family
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The following excerpt is from "Second Chance: An inspiring story about injury, redemption and family" by former U.S. national team member Mark Caso. The full story appears in the December 2016 issue of IG.

It happened Jan. 31, 1980. I was 17, one of the top high school recruits in the nation, and qualified for USA Championships. I was pushing the absolute limits with my new friends, UCLA freshmen teammates Mitch Gaylord and Peter Vidmar, and feeling indestructible! The problem was we were exhausted, since this was our fourth week of 2-and-2s in the gym. You had to hit two compulsories and two optionals without a major deduction on all six events, or it didn’t count. We were all burned out and exhausted. We hardly warmed up for routines anymore, since it would use up too much energy. So we just sort of took off our sweats and saluted our coach, Makoto Sakamoto— “Mr. Mako”—and banged out our sets, one after another.

Peter had been working on the Kurt Thomas on floor (1-1/2 twisting 1-3/4 Arabian dive roll) for his opening pass. Peter was not the strongest tumbler, so we were all trying to help him with this trick. In doing so, Mitch and I were playing with it, and found that we could also do it. Since Mitch and I were basically doing the same floor routine up to that point, Mitch decided to use the Thomas on his second pass. As a more powerful tumbler, I decided to put it in my third pass. Since we had no pit, we had to do all our routines on the regular floor, or throw in an 8-incher. But not a big deal. I had learned my full-in back-out on my high school’s wrestling mats back in East Syracuse, N.Y. At least UCLA had a spring floor!

Mako had this saying: “All or nothing.” If you thought you were going to get hurt, you just stop and pass on that turn. None of us had ever used that option. We were indestructible! We had not yet hit our limits.

Peter went first and barely got around on his Thomas. We were all worried about him. He rang his bell. Mitch went next and got through without a problem. It was typical Mitch Gaylord style. I was up last, and was trying to shake off the fact that I was dragging. I saluted Mr. Mako and began my routine. My first pass was a full-in. It was good, as usual, but when I did my second pass, it felt like gravity had somehow increased. As I stood in the corner looking down the diagonal for my third pass, everyone knew I was sluggish. Mr. Mako yelled, “All or nothing!” I nodded, took an extra breath, and started barreling into my hurdle. Things seemed to be going in slow motion. I punched the ground as hard as I could into the Thomas, and I knew I was not going to make it, yet I was too committed to the trick. All I could do was try to get my head under and pull it to my back. “THUMP.” I had gotten my head under, but my body was not turned over. My body weight, pounded my chin into my chest bone.

I saw black and couldn’t breathe. Pins and needles fired throughout my limbs. The tingling intensified to numbness, then nothing. I thought, Oh crap, I broke my neck! Terror! Every gymnast’s worst nightmare had actually happened.

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