On a tumbling pass during her junior year of high school, Shae Zamardi threw a full-in — a full-twisting double backflip — and landed the pass short as her demanding Russian coaches observed.
“I could feel it tearing,” the LSU gymnast said of her left hamstring. “It instantly cramped up. It tore, and my whole leg just cramped. Everything seized up.
“And I still finished my floor routine.”
That was the status quo for Zamardi, a native of Canada who’s now a junior at LSU. Complaints of pain or discomfort were met with suggested remedies of stretching, Advil or warm baths — anything to get her back into competition.
Zamardi followed orders, stretching and soaking that night and returning to practice the next day. She competed on the injury for another year, constantly favoring the leg. Other injuries began to follow, prompting the prized recruit to visit a specialist in Toronto.
“You have five holes in your leg,” the doctor told her, noting the tear was in five different places.
Platelet-rich plasma injections soon followed. Zamardi’s blood was centrifuged, and the platelets were injected back into the hamstring to facilitate the growth of reparative cells. She had four shots in all and still cowers when describing the size of the massive needle stabbed into her leg.
“I didn’t even think I was going to be able to make a comeback,” she said. “It was one of the most devastating points in my life because, tearing your hamstring five times, it’s not just a simple recovery. I never imagined I’d be doing floor, especially with these amazing girls.”
Recruited for her uneven bar prowess, Zamardi — a 2015 first-team All-American in that event — spent her offseason honing a floor routine that’s unlike most of her counterparts as the LSU gymnastics team tries to recoup the losses of event stalwarts Rheagan Courville, Jessie Jordan and Lloimincia Hall.
Instead of a set based on quick jumping, dancing and hip-hop, Zamardi’s routine is softer, with more ballet, opening with a double Arabian tumbling pass — a half-turn with two front flips. It’s the same opening pass Courville used in her routine.
“She’s more of a soft touch, and she tumbles really, really well,” coach D-D Breaux said. “If her tumbling comes along this week like it has, I think we can look forward to her being in the lineup (against top-ranked Oklahoma on Saturday).”
Zamardi traveled home to Canada after last year’s NCAA championships, where a cycle of practice, rehab and hamstring treatment manifested without any days off. She slowly found her tumbling rhythm, focusing just on floor — seeing as she can do her uneven bar routine “in her sleep.”
The injury still flares up, and Zamardi isn’t guaranteed a spot in the floor lineup each week. Breaux raved about the tumbling proficiency of freshmen Lexie Priessman and McKenna Kelley, who could also contend for lineup spots.
That’s fine for Zamardi, who’s the healthiest she has been during her time at LSU.
“It’s extremely difficult not competing in an event for two years and then having to get everything back,” she said. “When I went home this summer, it was constantly just trying to focus on getting everything back. I was finally healthy, and I had this drive. I wanted it so bad and I was so hungry for it, so I was like, ‘I’m getting it this year.’ ”