Jan 29, 2015
Jumping for Joy

By Ryan Johnson

At Wayzata High School in Plymouth, Minn., Jordan Helgren, a two-time Minnesota girls’ state champion triple jumper, dislocated her patella three weeks before the 2008 state meet. Ryan Johnson, CSCS, Coach Practitioner and Strength and Conditioning Coach at Wayzata, blogs about the team effort that got Helgren back on track and able to successfully defend her title.

The strong days of summer are definitely here and our summer strength and conditioning program is going strong. We have over 600 participants in our program this summer, an unbelievable number when you stop and think about it. The majority of these participants will be competing for us next year and it is wonderful to see them working so hard. Also, a few dozen of our summer regulars are alumni that are continuing their athletic careers at the college level. The other day I had the chance to catch up with an amazing young lady that wrapped up her athletic career at Wayzata in dramatic fashion.

Jordan Helgren is one of the best female athletes to come out of our track and field program. She put herself on the map by winning the state triple jump championship as a sophomore, her first year competing in the sport after switching from gymnastics because of ankle and knee injuries.

Jordan’s triple jump success carried over to her junior year when repeated her championship form and set a Minnesota State Meet Record by leaping 38 feet, 10.25 inches. She also struck gold in the long jump and anchored the team’s state championship winning 4×100 relay.

After those stunning performances, the college recruiters began lining up. RISE Magazine also profiled her in an awesome feature, with “Jordan ‘Fly Girl’ Helgren” gracing the cover. However, during her senior year, Jordan’s track and field career encountered some speed bumps. This is where our real story begins.

Minnesota is the only state that holds a true team meet for high school track and field. This meet is held in the middle of May while the traditional, individual-style state meet is held the first weekend of June. The goal of the team meet is to measure the depth and the strength of the team and not just a handful of individuals by scoring each finisher in each event. The Wayzata girls team hoped to take home the title this spring and loaded up by putting together the deepest lineup possible.

This included having Jordan high jump as well as do the triple and long jumps and the 4×100 relay. She had not high jumped since her sophomore year, but after working on it in practice for a couple of weeks before the meet, she felt comfortable enough to do it and help the team out.

On her first jump of the competition, she planted her left foot and her knee twisted outward awkwardly. She cleared the height, but went to her jumps coach complaining of pain. The jumps coach sat her down and tried to straighten her leg out, which caused even more pain. Next, he tried to bring her knee to her chest, which hurt even worse. Jordan said she knew something wasn’t right.

When she got up and tried to walk, she could not put any pressure on it without causing a sharp pain to run through her leg. But after a couple of hours she was able to put more pressure on it and was even able to hobble around a bit.

The next day she went to see an orthopedic surgeon and was diagnosed with a patella subluxation, or partial dislocation of the patella. Despite her pain, the surgeon assured Jordan that with the right rehab approach, it was possible that she could return to competition. In order to defend her state titles, she would have to do well at the sectional qualifier. After the surgeon’s diagnosis, we had only six weeks to get her ready for the sectional meet.

After overcoming the initial shock of the injury and the potential for not competing, Jordan and our rehab team went to work. She began physical therapy every other day at a local sports medicine clinic. Along with electric stimulation, she did band exercises, lateral squat walking, and leg presses.

During her fourth visit, she began some easy bounding, jumping up and down, and then some light bounds across the room. The goal was to strengthen everything surrounding the kneecap to prevent further dislocation. In our weightroom, she performed very light squats and used the Vertimax machine. I was careful to make sure the weightroom exercises complemented her PT work.

The hard work paid off when Jordan took first in both the long and triple jump events at sectionals, which qualified her for the state meet–she even tied her state record triple jump. We now had one week to prep for the state meet. Jordan was scheduled to long jump on Friday and triple jump on Saturday. Unfortunately, her jumps coach was going to be out of town for a wedding that Saturday. So Jordan asked me if I would help her out that day, which I gladly accepted–and promised not to screw up.

Jordan won the long jump competition on Friday night with a jump of 18 feet, 10.5 inches–which was her personal best. The triple jump was held the next day at 9 a.m., so I met Jordan at the track around 8 a.m. She was feeling pretty good coming off her win the previous day.

My job as her stand-in jumps coach consisted of watching her last step before she hit the board. Her step was perfect by her third and final practice attempt and her knee was feeling good.

On her first true attempt she landed deep in the pit and a murmur went through the crowd. The officials checked and re-checked the tape and announced to the gallery a jump of 39 feet, 8 inches. She had broken her own record state record and led the second place competitor by three feet.

Flush with confidence, on her second jump she landed even deeper in the pit. The officials checked and re-checked her distance before radio-ing the press box. Then, an announcement came over the loudspeakers. “Ladies and gentlemen we have just been informed that Jordan Helgren has broken her own record in the triple jump with a jump on 40 feet, 8 inches.” She was stunned.

The gallery gave her a thundering round of applause and all I could do was shake my head. Here stood a young lady who three and a half weeks earlier was wondering if a knee injury had ended her season. Instead, she had just uncorked one of the farthest high school jumps of the year in the Midwest. It was unbelievable. Two weeks after the state meet, Jordan competed at the National High School Track and Field Meet, placing sixth with a jump over 41 feet.

Jordan is an amazing athlete that worked very hard to prepare for her final season and didn’t waver at all after experiencing an injury. Her team of therapists, trainers, and myself is in agreement that Jordan’s pre-injury work in the weightroom was instrumental to her coming back as quickly and effectively as she did.

But she also attacked her rehab just like she had her training–the sign of a true athlete. Working with Jordan was an awesome experience. Not only was she blessed with talent, but she also developed a work ethic along the way that is second to none. Next fall, she will attend the University of Wisconsin on a track scholarship, and they are lucky to have her–after all not every girl can fly like this one.

To read more about how we conduct our program, go to: www.wayzata.k12.mn.us. And please feel free to e-mail me with any questions at: [email protected].

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