It’s Nykaela Dodson’s comeback year.
Following a serious head injury in the spring, the Sammamish gymnast is ready to three-peat as balance beam state champion and contend for a trophy on bars.
Dodson placed first at state last year for balance beam with a score of 9.425, and has switched up her bars routine, incorporating new skills. In Dodson’s most recent meet, she had her highest all-around score this season, 37.05, and her bars score improved to 9.35, up 1.45 points from the beginning of the season.
This has been especially challenging after Dodson’s injury last spring, where she got a concussion and fractured her skull during a competitive cheerleading competition. For a month afterwards Dodson was confined to a bedroom lit by a single strand of Christmas lights, and was recovering for the rest of the school year.
Previously a level 10 club gymnast, Dodson left the club world her sophomore year to pursue high school gymnastics.
“We have a really strong team, and [Dodson] plays a big role in that. Everyone’s trying to keep up with her, and trying to do skills she is doing,” said Sammamish coach Jessica Buck.
Buck is in her first year as head coach after Jerry Penney stepped back after 44 years of coaching.
What does Dodson look like while competing? Perfection, said assistant coach Jennifer Genoway.
“She doesn’t do anything halfway,” Genoway said. “Her vault is explosive. It’s amazing how much power she has in her tiny little body.”
Mastering these skills may not be as challenging to Dodson, but her coaches said the hardest part now is maintaining them at competition level.
We caught up with Dodson on her recovery, her new bars routine, and choosing high school over club.
What are some of the new skills you have tried to bring into your routines?
I started bars this year with a really simple routine. One of the basic ones that I could get a decent score on, but then I tried to add a giant fold. I ended with it last year, and I tried to add it in this year, which was tricky, so I’m trying to get that skill back and be competition ready. Some other things: a switch kip, which I never used to do before, and is a more simple skill, but is fun. Some of my tumbling passes that I hadn’t done for a long time, a front handspring, front layout, front pike.
Your coaches said you help choreograph some of the other girls’ routines. Do you come up with all of the moves for your routine yourself?
No, I still use the same floor routine I used in club gymnastics, which was choreographed by one of my club coaches. She did a really great job, and I fell in love with the routine, and just really liked performing it. I haven’t changed it since then or made up my own choreography on floor, but on beam I have made up my own choreography. It’s a little easier to make up beam choreography.
What made you want to quit club and pursue only high school gymnastics?
That was a really tough decision. That took a lot of hours of thinking about and deciding. Overall, I went through the levels really fast and had to miss out on a lot of things. This gives me a lot more time to spend with my friends and family, and I get to focus on school a little bit more. And there were some changes in my gym from club that were happening, and they all just compiled into one big thing where I decided to leave the club world.
Last year you placed first at state for balance beam. What were some of your goals you had going into this season?
My sophomore year we made it to state as a team, and that was a big deal. Last year we missed it by less than a point. It was a really big heartbreak. This year we’re hoping to make it to state as a team. As far as individually, having placed for something the last two years, there’s a lot of pressure to do that again, but of course I’ll try and do my best. Hopefully rank high on some of the other events. That would be pretty fun. I’m trying to up my bar routine so it’s more competitive statewide.
What’s your favorite event?
Beam is my favorite event. For competition I really like floor. Especially in the high school setting it’s a lot of fun, and you get to show a lot of personality that way. I’ve always really like beam though. Always had a soft spot for it since I was little. It’s kind of stressful to compete, because if you’re shaky and nervous, then staying on the beam is harder.
Has your injury affected your gymnastics season this year?
When I walked it my first meet, it was the first competition that I had been at since the last competition where I had got hurt. It kind of took me aback, because it was like, whoa this is my first time coming back. I kind of realized the significance of it there, but as far as injury wise, it doesn’t hurt anymore. It hasn’t affected my physically being able to do gymnastics. But on a mental level, the first time I competed it definitely felt good to get back into it, and conquer, not fear, because I wasn’t afraid of it, but fully move on from what happened.