In the moments following her unsuccessful beam dismount against West Virginia in February 2022, UNC gymnast Lali Dekanoidze knew she had injured herself.
What began as another successful day of competition for Dekanoidze ended with her suffering a significant right knee injury — with a fractured patella and torn MPFL. She needed surgery, and it would be another two months before she walked again.
She remembers the pain of that dismount, and how her knee gave out before her teammates could applaud the performance.
“It was so heartbreaking to know I couldn’t compete the rest of the season and might not do gymnastics again,” Dekanoidze said. “I was focused on just trying to walk again.”
This heartbreaking injury with a longer-than-expected recovery has transformed into a record-breaking start to the season for Dekanoidze. In her first meet at Carmichael Arena since her injury — UNC’s home opener against N.C. State — she set North Carolina’s record for the highest single-event score with a 9.975 on bars.
11 months prior, Dekanoidze’s future in the sport wasn’t so certain.
UNC head coach Danna Durante said that, before her injury, Dekanoidze made immense progress throughout her first season. The young phenom had a chance to make it to NCAA nationals, she said.
“Not only is she talented, but she's worked very, very hard all of her life to be in a position where she could be a very successful athlete,” Durante said. “She was really making a difference for her team.”
After the West Virginia meet last February, Dekanoidze couldn't compete NCAA nationals or the postseason at all.