On January 13, 2008, the day after she received her acceptance letter to Towson University, 18-year-old Sarah Meiklejohn was doing her last tumbling pass of her gymnastics routine. She twisted in the air backwards. However, when she landed, her feet stopped but her body kept twisting. She stumbled but got up quickly and walked away without any problem.
She thought she just twisted her knee. She iced it without thinking much of it. At practice the following day, her knee was swollen and stiff. Meiklejohn could not bend her knee at all. Her coach said, “You are not allowed to practice until you make a doctor’s appointment.”
With much protest, Meiklejohn made the appointment. At the doctor’s office, Meiklejohn had x-rays done, followed by a MRI. The doctors said that it looked like she tore her anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL.
“It freaked me out,” Meiklejohn said, “I knew it meant my [gymnastics] season was over and I needed surgery.”
The surgery she knew would be inevitable was reconstructive surgery on her ACL. The surgery would result in six to eight months of recovery time, a knee brace, and rehab along with physical therapy.
“I never had surgery or broken anything in my life,” Meiklejohn said, “I was petrified.”
On February 22, 2008, Meiklejohn woke up from surgery hearing a nurse call her name and tell her that everything well went. Once Meiklejohn was conscious and alert, the nurse told her that her ACL was not torn, but that she tore away all the cartilage around her knee. The doctors had to remove it all the cartilage and it would heal back on its own.
Meiklejohn used crutches for a week and received physical therapy for about four months. She did not have to use a brace or attend rehab.
That surgery ended Meiklejohn gymnastics career, which she started when she was two years old. Meiklejohn began gymnastics due to doctor’s recommendations. They said it would help her build muscle.
The doctors suggested that Meiklejohn do gymnastics because she was born three months premature. She was born on July 3, 1990, and weighed 1 pound, 10 ounces. She stayed in the neonatal intensive care unit, NICU, until October 3, 1990, the day she was supposed to be born, exactly three months after her premature birth.
“I was excited and scared because Sarah was so little and we didn’t know if she was going to be okay,” Sue Murchake, Meiklejohn’s grandmother, said.
While in the NICU, Meiklejohn had her IVs changed, oxygen levels checked, and heart monitored everyday. She had to be placed under a special heat light until she could hold her temperature. She was fed through a tube, as well.
“I was shocked and very sick,” Denise Meiklejohn, Sarah’s mother, said, “It was very unexpected. I didn’t see Sarah for four days.”
Sarah Meiklejohn’s pituitary gland, which controls growth hormones, never developed because she was so premature. At 20-years-old, Meiklejohn stands at 4 feet, 4 inches.
Meiklejohn wears a size three in shoes but still manages to find heels. She uses pedal extenders and seat cushions, which her sister, Rachel Meiklejohn, 16, uses as well, on a seat that is moved all the way forward, when she drives.
Meiklejohn’s two sisters were also born premature. Rachel, who stands at 4 feet 10 inches, weighed only 2 pounds at birth. Megan, 13, the tallest, stands at 5 feet 2 inches, and weighed only 3 pounds when she was born. All three sisters are very close even though Sarah goes away to college.
“Sarah has overcome a lot of the odds that the doctors said she wouldn’t, for example, hearing and sight problems,” Denise Meiklejohn said.
Sarah tried out for the gymnastics team at Towson University as a freshman. However, due to her previous knee injury, she could not perform.
After 18 years of gymnastics, Meiklejohn had to adjust to life without the sport. At Docksiders, one of the top gymnastics institutions in Maryland, Meiklejohn practiced six days a week for four hours a day.
“Gymnastics made me happy because I was good at it, like really good,” Meiklejohn said, “Sometimes I miss it when I think back of how good I was. I was talented at it, but now I have a lot of more time for school and friends.”
Meiklejohn is a junior at Towson University and majoring in Mass Communications, with a focus on advertising. She eventually wants to do either sports advertising or work with ads for magazines.
“I don’t know anyone who could have a better granddaughter,” Murchake said.
The saying, “good things come in small packages” is an understatement. Meiklejohn is truly an example of the saying, “it’s not how big you are, but how big your heart is.”
“I wouldn’t change anything about my life,” Meiklejohn said, “The obstacles have only made me stronger.”