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John’s Journal: A Fighter And Her Teammates

Gymnast Tanya Schlichting’s Motto: Never Give Up

Posted: Thursday, March 11, 2021 - 10:51 PM

For weeks now I’ve been thinking about a way to mark one full year since March 12, 2020, when the Covid-19 pandemic put a stop to high school sports in Minnesota. The decision was made when I heard about Tanya Schlichting and her teammates, because what they have done and continue to do tells us everything we need to know about the values provided by these important community activities … and what can be missed when they do not happen.

This story has nothing to do with winning and losing on the scoreboard. It’s all about the lessons we can learn from teenagers and their coaches and parents, about sticking together, about taking care of each other, about being selfless. 

“It’s amazing the way the team has wrapped their arms around our daughter,” Brian Schlichting said to me Thursday during a lengthy phone conversation.

Tanya, a senior at Apple Valley High School who has been a member of the Apple Valley/Eastview cooperative gymnastics team throughout high school, was involved in a very serious vehicle accident last July 8. Doctors initially told her parents, Brian and Catherine, that her chances of survival were 50-50 due to a closed head injury. She was in a coma and her parents became familiar with things like breathing tubes, feeding tubes and brain monitors. 

Tanya has always been a fighter, however, and she indeed fought back. Early forecasts predicted she might be hospitalized for six or seven months. She came home, walking on her own steam, after 100 days; 15 at Regions Hospital and 85 days at Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare hospital, working with nurses and therapists and other dedicated professionals. 

As Brian said, “She worked her rear end off.”

Her gymnastics teammates were there all the way, and they continue to be there for Tanya. She’s not able to participate as a competitive gymnast as she continues to work with occupational and physical therapists, but she’s definitely a member of the team. 

While Tanya was hospitalized, coach Liz Carlson promised her that she would remain part of the team. And as the first day of practice on Jan. 4 neared, Tanya made it clear that she wanted to be there.

“The first day we walked in, the girls were phenomenal,” Brian said. “The seniors really put their arms around Tanya and welcomed her, knowing that she would not compete but she was part of the team.”

As a ninth-grader, Tanya competed on vault, as a sophomore year she added beam and floor, and she was a varsity competitor on floor exercise as a junior. This year she’s returned to the floor, performing in an exhibition format at the end of several dual meets. She’s unable to sprint and flip and do airborne maneuvers, but she can sure dance. 

Carlson wrote in an email, “I asked Tanya what goal she wanted to set for this season. A week later her dad came up to me and said, ‘She wants to do her floor routine to the best of her ability.’ He asked if this is doable and I said, “Absolutely, let’s do it.’ One of her friends on the team made up a routine to her floor music. We came in on the weekends and practiced while the team was conditioning. No one knew about this.”

The first home meet was Senior Night, honoring Tanya and classmates Julia Choporov, Lexie Ressmeyer, Tasha Hill, Abbie Swanson and Kailey Renn. After the last girl had finished competing, Carlson announced that there would be a special performance. The AVEV girls wore Team Tanya t-shirts; pink, with the words Never Give Up. The visiting team from Farmington knew about Tanya and were all in on supporting her. Some of them wore masks bearing the words Never Give Up.

“The girls from Farmington were so gracious,” Brian said. “All the girls had ribbons in their hair that said Never Give Up, for our daughter. It was amazing.”

Members of both teams sat and watched while Tanya performed the dance portion of her floor routine with assistance from Julia Choporov. When she finished, one of the judges put a 10.0 on the scoreboard. Dry eyes? Not so much.

“It was very emotional to see her out there,” said her dad. “We were shocked, we didn’t know she would be able to do that.”

Tanya performed again following meets with Rosemount and Lakeville South.

“Cathy and I said, ‘We never didn’t expect Tanya not to do something,’ ” Brian said, “But I guess we never expected her to be out on that floor. We were thrilled.”

The gymnasts from Apple Valley and Eastview have come together in a very strong way this year. Is that because of Tanya? Is It Covid-19? Is it because they have missed seeing their friends in school because of virtual learning? It’s probably all of that and more, but no one who knows Tanya will discount her impact on everyone.

“I think Tanya gives a presence of never giving up,” said Brian.  

Challenges continue. The Schlichtings (Brian, Catherine, Tanya and Eli, a sophomore at Apple Valley) are currently quarantining at home. Catherine tested positive for Covid but the others have not.

“We have a very weird situation,” Brian said. “Things just are really piling on us right now.”

Brian and Catherine have done a marvelous job documenting Tanya’s journey on a CaringBridge website: (that's where the photos used here came from). 

“Since the day of that accident, she has surprised us every day,” Brian told me. “She never gave up on things. The first night in the hospital, when we were told by the neurosurgeon that she was 50-50, my wife looked at me and said, ‘She’s coming home someday.’ She’s pushed through this on a regular basis. It’s not always been easy, but she goes through the battles with a smile and lots of laughter. And the team has supported her so darn much.”

The next goal is for Tanya to get through quarantine and be with her teammates for the Section 3 championships March 19 at Park High School in Cottage Grove. Once the season ends, there is no doubt that the team members and their families will keep putting their arms around Tanya and the Schlichtings.

“Honestly, I think she is the one who made us all better and stronger people,” Carlson wrote. “She has a very long road ahead of her, but I have no doubt this young lady can do anything.”

There will be many memories from this very special gymnastics season, and some of the most important memories have nothing to do with winning and losing on the scoreboard. That Senior Night, that special performance by the bravest, toughest athlete around, will be remembered forever.

“The other team was cheering, our girls were crying, her family was so touched and grateful,” Carlson wrote. “It was a moment I’ll never forget, and neither will those girls. That right there is what high school sports is all about.”

--MSHSL media specialist John Millea has been the leading voice of Minnesota high school activities for decades. Follow him on Twitter @MSHSLjohn and listen to "Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts. Contact John at [email protected] 

“The first day we walked in, the girls were phenomenal. The seniors really put their arms around Tanya and welcomed her, knowing that she would not compete but she was part of the team.”
Brian Schlighting

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