The toughest athlete in Maryland was at it again Sunday. Wendy Weaver slipped off the uneven bars warming up and banged her right knee. Later she described the pain as the most she ever faced in competition. She equaled two Towson State gymnastics records anyway.
The toughest athlete in Maryland stands 5 feet 2, competes in a leotard and embraces her Christian faith. She shatters bones as easily as stereotypes, makes a new comeback every year. But even now, in her senior season, she remains utterly cheerful, and completely unfazed.
At 22, she already has broken more than a dozen bones and undergone three major operations. "That's where I am now," she says, smiling. "There and holding." Sunday, she hurt her knee. Before that, a ligament in her back. And before that, ribs, fingers, wrists, elbows, feet and legs.
"Her body is pretty fragile," Towson State coach Dick Filbert says, "but the sport is incredibly demanding. Most of the kids have had major injuries. There's lots of tape and ice bags everywhere. But Wendy, she's hanging on for dear life."
Filbert claims Weaver has been inside the Magnetic Resonance Imaging tube so many times, "she probably knows the make and serial number."
Weaver adds, "They have a wing named after me at the radiology center across the street."
Seriously, folks . . .
"It's amazing she continues," says her fiance, Towson State second baseman Jason Martinez (yes, that Jason, the son of Tippy). "She definitely has a lot of heart. I couldn't even imagine it. It's not like baseball. You're talking about a sport of constant pounding."
The human body isn't meant to withstand all the crazy things gymnasts do to spice up their "routines" -- the leaps and twists, flips and tumbles. Weaver is literally an accident waiting to happen. She's also the best gymnast in Towson State history.
As a sophomore, she finished 19th in the all-around at the NCAA championships. She holds or shares school records in the vault (9.70), beam (9.80), bars (9.80) and all-around (38.375). Filbert says she would be an All-American by now, if only she had stayed healthy.
But she missed half of last season with a shoulder injury, two months of practice this season with her back. She competed in Towson's first meet Sunday after only two weeks of preparation. She injured her knee in warmups, then tied TSU records in the vault and bars before twice falling off the beam.
By then she clearly was in pain, despite the deep knee bends she performed to stay loose between events. Fortunately, she wasn't scheduled to compete in the floor exercise to close the meet. She sat down near the mat, applied an ice bag to her knee and rested back on her hands. Her teammates stood cheering as Towson lost to Penn State.
"I've gotten a raw deal," Weaver concedes when pressed. "Especially with your first injury, the thought is there right away, 'Why am I doing this?' But somehow, I don't know where it comes from, the motivation comes back. It has to be God. That's all I can figure out. Some people call it stupid. I guess I'm just determined."
The amazing thing is, she rarely ponders what might have been. Weaver would make a perfect "Up Close and Personal" Olympic profile, but of course she's not going to Barcelona. That dream ended when she reinjured her left elbow in high school. Reinjured it walking to class. Reinjured it falling on ice.
"Dumb luck," she says.
She decided to skip her senior season, which meant no `f Olympics. To this day, she believes she had the ability to make the 1988 team -- hadn't she finished 22nd at her first U.S. championships in '86? But by the time she graduated high school, she was over the hill.
It was a shame, for she had left from her home in Newark, Del., to spend a year training with the Parkettes gymnastics club in Allentown, Pa. But at the international level, this is a sport for girls, not women. College meets don't even include Olympic-style compulsories. Why bother?
As it turned out, the year off was the best thing that could have happened. "It gave me a break from injury," Weaver says, "and the chance to be a normal teen-ager." The scholarship offers came anyway, and Weaver chose Towson over North Carolina State, wanting to stay close to home.
Her courage was evident almost immediately. As a freshman, she won the ECAC bars competition just six weeks after suffering a foot fracture that should have sidelined her for the year. It was the first of many such Wendy Weaver stories.
Her mother Janet says Wendy gets hurt because "she goes for it." Wendy admits, "I don't know how to take it easy in practice." Filbert has a more difficult vault he wants her to try, but he's afraid to let her "throw it" in competition.
Meanwhile, the toughest athlete in Maryland is a sports management major with a 3.864 grade-point average out of 4.0. She wants to stay healthy, wants to return to the NCAAs. The way she sees it, God gave her this talent. "Not many people have it," she says. "I've got to use it."
Where it hurts
* Injury history of Wendy Weaver
Pre-Towson State 1. Asthma (since childhood).
Left elbow fracture, 1983.
3. Right foot fracture, 1984.
4. Left wrist fracture, 1985.
5. Left index finger fracture, 1985.
6. Left knee traumatic in synovitis, 1985.
7. Achilles' tendon strain, 1985.
8. Cyst removed from wrist, 1985.
9. Left foot fracture, 1985.
10. Ankle spurs, 1986.
11. Right leg stress fracture, 1986.
12. Left leg stress fracture, 1987.
13. Left elbow refractured, 1987.
14. Ankle sprains, over several years.
15. Right heel contusion, 1988.
16. Shin splints, 1988.
17. Left thumb sprain, 1989.
18. Left foot fracture, 1989.
19. Left ankle sprain, 1989.
20. Pulled chest muscle, 1989.
21. Mononucleosis, 1989.
22. Upper back sprain, 1989.
23. Left ankle sprain, 1990.
24. Torn left shoulder tendon, 1990.
25. Torn back ligament, 1991.
26. Right knee strain, 1992.