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‘I cherish the moments I get to compete’: How an Achilles injury and the journey back permanently changed Utah gymnastics’ Cammy Hall

Hall has been enduringly changed by the injury and the subsequent recovery process. In her mind for the better

Utah gymnast Cammy Hall celebrates her performance on the vault as Utah hosts Kentucky to kick off the 2020 season in the Huntsman Center at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City on Friday, Jan. 3, 2020. 
Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Even the most casual observer couldn’t have missed it.

It was Saturday night in the Huntsman Center on the campus of the University of Utah — Jan. 4 to be exact — and the Red Rocks had just begun their season-opening meet against Kentucky.

Like every home meet, Utah began the competition on vault. Sydney Soloski kicked off the season with her first collegiate vault, a memorable moment in itself, but that wasn’t what couldn’t be missed.

No, that came courtesy of Cammy Hall on the very next vault.

After playing a little I Spy with Soloski — we’ll get to that in a bit — Hall stepped onto the runway, saluted the judges and seconds later competed the first vault of her Utah career.

It wasn’t perfect by any means. She earned a 9.825 for her Yurchenko 1 1/2, thanks to a bit of a hop on her landing, among other things. Based solely on her reaction, though, you would have assumed she earned a perfect 10.

The sheer joy she exuded, that was it. You couldn’t miss it. You could practically touch it. It was tangible. It was authentic.

That unabashed delight was still there a week later, at the Best of Utah meet against BYU, SUU and Utah State. Hall performed a better vault this time and earned a 9.875 as a result, the best score by any Red Rock.

Again, as she landed on the mat, she radiated joy, boasting a smile that stretched from ear to ear as she celebrated with Utah assistant coach Garrett Griffeth.

“Words can’t explain what I feel when I finish my vault,” said Hall. “I cherish the moments I get to compete. It is like, wow!”

To understand why, to appreciate her unbridled joy, you have to look back on her career up on the hill.

Prior to the start of the last season, Cammy — Cameron is her given name, Cameron Nicole Hall in full — was arguably the most anticipated freshman in a group that included Cristal Isa, Adrienne Randall and Hunter Dula.

By all accounts the Gainesville, Virginia, native was going to be a major piece in the Red Rocks’ vault lineup and a contributor on floor exercise. That is until she ruptured her Achilles in practice just before the Red Rocks Preview.

“That was so hard,” said Isa. “We were so sad for her.”

In a second, Hall went from an up-and-comer to an afterthought, one who was sidelined for months on end.

“When anyone goes through an Achilles injury it is a big deal,” Missy Reinstadtler said. “The recovery time is so extreme. There is so much time of not being able to do anything. It is months and months before you can even start walking on it.”

And while that aspect was absolutely trying for Hall, the mental challenges posed by the injury proved even more difficult.

“The beginning was the hardest and I think it was more of a mental challenge for me, even more than physically,” she said. “It was accepting the fact that I couldn’t even think about doing gymnastics for months. It was hard thinking about not competing in the Huntsman and having to contribute to the team in a different way than I thought I was going to. Accepting a different role was really hard. I knew the team (had) counted on me.”

Over time Hall adjusted to her role, with the help of Isa, who suffered a season-ending shoulder injury of her own early in the year.

“It was easier because we had each other,” Isa said

By the end of the 2019 season Hall was out of her boot, but even then recovery was a slow and arduous process. It wasn’t until this past October that she was truly and completely healthy and the journey from her boot removal until then was just as trying as sitting on the sidelines during the season.

“I was scared to do gymnastics,” Hall said. “There was a point where I could tumble again, soft tumbling, and all I would think about was my left Achilles.” — she injured her right one — “I was worried that it would be taking all of it, because I was compensating and I couldn’t feel if I was compensating.”

Much like she did with the disappointment of not being able to be there for her teammates, Hall overcame that.

“I just came to terms with it being out of my control and knew that I just had to do what I do,” she said. “If it (another injury) happens, it happens. I know I’ll be able to do it because I’ve done it before. It doesn’t scare me. Not at all. Not anymore.”

Soon enough, she was tumbling and vaulting with abandon, but then she had to overcome yet another challenge, namely a lack of confidence in herself and her ability.

“She is someone who had some obstacles this preseason … choosing confidence,” said Soloski. “That isn’t something she is necessarily amazing at, but we all know that she is.”

It was in part due to Hall’s struggles with confidence that Soloski played I Spy with her ahead of her debut, in an attempt to calm Hall down.

“Her and I played I Spy at the back of the runway to keep her calm,” Soloski explained.

It worked, as Hall hit her debut vault, much to the delight of herself and her teammates.

“Seeing her come back and vaulting, on such a power event that uses that part of your body, and seeing her do so well has been amazing,” said Reinstadtler. “She has put in so much work to do rehab and to get strong again. To be able to go out and hit her vaults, I think that is an indicator of just how much effort she put into her recovery.

“I know what it is like to go out there on your first competitive event. It is overwhelming. There is so much emotion going on. And for her to go out and hit, coming back from injury on her first routine in the Huntsman, on a big 10.0 (value) vault too. ... To see her hit it and to see her reaction, I couldn’t help but be ecstatic for her.”

Hall’s journey is far from over. Though a sophomore, she has three years of eligibility remaining after this season. What will happen over the course of that time is, of course, yet to be determined, but one thing is already certain — she has been enduringly changed. In her mind for the better.

“It was definitely one of the hardest things I have ever done, but it has definitely changed me and in a good way,” she said. “I’ve grown and learned from it. Now that I am competing, words can’t explain what I feel when I finish my vault. It really is everything I thought it would be and even more. All the hard work and all the extra rehab paid off and it was totally worth it.”