In the first meet of the 2022 season, the UNC gymnastics team opened with its highest season-opening score in history. A record 4,125 fans in Carmichael Arena cheered on the Tar Heels in competition against the Auburn Tigers and Bowling Green Falcons.
However, the record-breaking meet took a sudden turn.
Then-junior Hallie Thompson stepped up to compete in the bar routine, but instead of twirling through the air, she winced in pain when she suffered the second ACL tear of her collegiate athletics career — sidelining her for yet another season.
Thompson did not compete as a first-year in 2020 after incurring the same injury on the last day of practice. After working hard to get back to the mat and put together an all-around meet her junior year, last season's injury seemed to be another daunting roadblock.
But as she prepares for her second comeback in her senior year, she’s ready to work even harder to meet those same goals for the Tar Heels this season.
“I can confidently say I was stronger after my first ACL tear,” Thompson said. “Being positioned to where I never thought it would happen again, and then it did, that was just heartbreaking.”
Prior to coming to UNC, Thompson was a three-time Junior Olympic National Team qualifier and a State and Regional AA Champion. Her sophomore year at UNC saw her named to the East Atlantic Gymnastics League’s All-conference Second Team. She set career bests that year on beam, bars and floor with a 9.90, 9.80, and 9.875 respectively. That same year, Thompson competed in all nine meets in the beam and vault lineups.
Thompson’s 2022 meet would have been the first competition since her first tear competing in all four circuits.
“I think we were all really excited to see her finally get to put an all-around meet together,” senior teammate Elizabeth Culton said. “That’s really what she’d been working for.”
While the unprecedented injury may have caused Thompson's role on the team to be different than she expected throughout the season, Thompson’s voice as a supporter remained invaluable to the team as the competition continued.
Whether through encouraging her teammates or providing valuable insight, she was still a main contributor to the Tar Heels throughout the season.
“There was such a strong voice that Hallie had all through preseason for her teammates that, even though she wasn’t competing, when she heard that, I think she knew that her role was bigger,” gymnastics head coach Danna Durante said. “I think she felt that impact, and her teammates were glad to have her voice back there.”
Durante describes Thompson as “tough as nails,” somebody who is consistently focusing on bettering herself and somebody who she believes could make a mark in the competition circuit when given the opportunity.
UNC athletes have resources both through their individual teams and through the sports psychology department when struggling with injury. While Thompson depended heavily on her teammates, resources like one-on-one therapy consultations are key to helping athletes work through the impact of not being able to compete.
Through her recovery, Thompson documented her rehabilitation process through an Instagram account @hillsandvalleyss. She recorded milestones in her recovery process from the first time she was able to get back on a bike, through her summer study abroad in Spain where she focused on strength training.
As she prepares for competition through rehabilitation over the next couple of months, Thompson is prepared to reach the goals she’s been working toward since her start in the college gymnastics circuit.
“Learning to be patient with myself and not compare, not to other people, but to myself and my first ACL tear has been so important,” Thompson said. “I know that the work that I do, even if it is slower, will pay off in the end.”
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