Despite several setbacks, UIC's Northern stays positive
Somehow, Miki Northern keeps putting herself back together again.
Like a real-life Humpty Dumpty.
Northern, a senior gymnast at UIC, returned to gymnastics after rupturing her Achilles tendon, one of the most difficult injuries in sports.
But, get this, in her first formal competition back, she ruptured the other Achilles tendon.
"I had just gone through the rehab and it was hard," Northern said. "And now, the same injury happens again on the other foot. I just didn't know if I could go through all of it again. I didn't know if I could get back again."
But Northern did, only to have to find her way back to gymnastics yet again.
This time, with both Achilles healed, she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. It was last summer when she got the news from left field. Suddenly, she was out for nearly two months while she underwent treatment and had her thyroid removed.
Northern made it back again though, only to suffer another blow. To her heart.
At the beginning of the school year, Northern and her UIC teammates were told that this would be the last season for both the men's and women's gymnastics teams. UIC, to the dismay and disgust of many alums and former gymnasts, plans to discontinue both programs in the spring of 2019 due to financial considerations. The program will be gone. Forever.
Northern is a senior, and will finish out her career at UIC, which stages its last home gymnastics meet ever on Sunday against Northern Illinois.
But she was heartbroken when she heard the news, for her teammates and for the program that she has dedicated so much of her life to throughout her college career.
"The news just came out of nowhere and everyone was so upset, it was like a depression came over everyone," Northern said. "After two Achilles and the thyroid and now this news, it starts to feel a little overwhelming."
And yet somehow, after yet another challenge, Northern has managed to put herself back together and come back strong. Like she always has.
Instead of going out with a sad, depressed whimper, Northern is performing better than ever, determined to finish her career with a bang. She is one of the best all-around gymnasts in the country and is hoping she can lead the UIC women to the NCAA national meet in April.
"I guess I just decided that even though I am sad about our program and I'm sad for my teammates, all I can do is try to stay positive and stay focused on the season and stay focused on doing my best," Northern said. "I think all of us have been focused on doing our very best. That's the way we want to end it."
Northern has good experience in this area.
She overcame all of her physical setbacks to qualify for three straight NCAA regionals over her first three seasons, and she won the Illinois state championship in the all-around competition last year.
She's hoping that her well-tested resiliency will help her reach similar heights this season in spite of the heartache caused by the demise of her program.
"I think I learned with my Achilles injuries and my thyroid situation never to take anything for granted because you never know when something will be taken away," Northern said. "You learn to enjoy the moment and I think that's what I've tried to do in this very tough season for all of us. I think I'm just trying to enjoy every bit of it, and I think that's part of the reason I've done pretty well. I would love to go to the (NCAA meet) again. I think we all would."
Unless plans change drastically and UIC comes up with an eleventh hour reprieve for its gymnastics programs, the women's team will host its very last home meet on campus in program history at noon on Sunday at the Dorin Forum against Northern Illinois.