Jan. 17, 2013
STANFORD, Calif. -
When Stanford sophomore Brian Knott competed in his first event at last weekend's season-opening men's gymnastics victory at California, it was a moment he envisioned for almost a year.
Knott led off on high bar and delivered a clean routine, hitting all of his elements and absolutely sticking the landing - earning the highest score of the meet on the event (14.450), setting a new career high and helping Stanford record the third-highest overall team score in the nation (425.000).
Yet, nailing the routine and sticking the landing represented more than just a score to Knott, it was a moment of triumph.
Knott joined Stanford in 2012, one year after the Cardinal's most recent national championship, and made an immediate impact. As a freshman, Knott earned an all-around spot in the lineup in the first three meets of the season.
He recorded career highs on five of six events during his third meet, the Stanford Open, along with his career high in the all-around. It was a great start to his collegiate career and the future only looked brighter as his strength, endurance and difficulty in his routines continued to increase.
"I was training on every event, trying to improve," Knott said. "The fact I made an all-around lineup was somewhat of a surprise but I had just been putting in the training ... so earning an all-around [spot] was really a testament to how hard I was working."
Knott's hard work in training, however, would need to be refocused.
On Jan. 31, just two days after Knott's best collegiate performance, he suffered a torn right bicep while training on floor exercise. It was a strange injury to occur on the event and one Knott did not immediately realize was significant.
"I was doing a rudimentary part of my routine and heard [my bicep] just kind of pop," Knott said. "First, I was in denial. I was like, `It's not really torn, it's nothing serious, a strain probably, but I have to get it checked out.'"
When the injury occurred, Knott laid on the floor mat in the gymnastics facility and called to the team's athletic trainer Cory James for assistance. Knott recalls the injury hurting when it initially "popped" but the pain dissipated almost immediately afterward.
Knott underwent some initial tests with the athletic training staff and was seen by a doctor within 20 minutes. After ultrasound testing and an MRI that night, it was confirmed his bicep was torn. Knott met with a specialist the next morning to discuss options and had surgery the next week.
"It was really surprising it was such a serious thing," Knott said. "Going through the whole doctor process, I was hoping it would only be a week and I could compete again in the next competition - especially because at that time a week was a lot of training to be missing ... but of course, it was a torn bicep, you have to fix that."
After surgery, perhaps the most difficult time of dealing with a major injury began - the recovery and rehabilitation process. In addition to the projected three-month recovery for his bicep, Knott also had a sixth-month recovery for a right labrum injury doctors fixed while in surgery.
The recovery and rehab process included a lot of waiting and slow day-to-day progress, two things Knott said he often struggled with.
"The toughest part was going weeks at a time and not seeing improvement, wondering if the injury is ever going to get better," Knott said. "The most difficult part of the injury was thinking all of the work I've just done doesn't matter anymore."
Two weeks after his surgery, Knott would be faced with another major life event when his older brother Steven Knott died.
At that point, Knott's focus turned to family.
"When my brother died, I was dealing with that more than anything," Knott said. "It just gives you some perspective."
Knott describes the 2012 winter quarter as his most mentally and physically challenging.
As Knott began his rehab training four weeks after surgery, he found himself trying to find his role on the team. He wanted to be involved and train alongside his teammates, but he found there was only so much he could do in practice and had to be patient in his recovery.
"I was doing as much as I could but it's really hard to be on the sidelines," Knott said. "There's kind of an expectation to show you're working as hard as the guys competing, to show that you're supporting the team. I was trying to do that but there's only so much you can do on the side.
"I did what I could. It turned into a lot of physical therapy that I went to during practice. I really wanted to support the team, but at the same time, I really felt useless."
This feeling didn't last long, however, as Knott continued to work hard in his physical therapy sessions and began to see results in his range of motion and strength training. It was a gradual process. He didn't just re-learn events as he got healthier, he worked on basic skills every day until he had them down. Then, he re-learned more advanced ones.
After a spring and summer filled with physical therapy, strength training and re-learning skills, Knott returned to campus for his sophomore year ready to compete. He believes his freshman year taught him a variety of lessons - most importantly, to enjoy what he's doing.
"Last year was a difficult transition to collegiate level athletics," Knott said. "Getting used to the training schedule, on top of the amount of school work with the everyday practices, I felt more like I was just trying to survive.
"At this point, I definitely think I enjoy the sport more. I go in to training and know I want to do certain skills today and improve."
So far, that mentality has benefitted Knott who also was second on parallel bars in Stanford's season opening meet at Cal.
His recovery and performance this year has impressed assistant head coach Brett McClure who expects Knott to only continue to improve.
"Just to see him come back the way he has, and compete again in the season opener this year is a huge milestone for him," McClure said. "I expect him to build from this first meet and to continue to add difficulty ... It's just a matter of how we can build his endurance and getting him out on the floor."
As Knott begins to prepare for the Stanford Open, a meet in which he recorded five of his six career highs just a year ago, he is more relaxed than ever and takes comfort in finally being able to focus on his gymnastics and the team's ultimate goal - an NCAA championship.
"I'm definitely enjoying Stanford a lot more than last year," Knott said. "Being through it once before has really helped me and being used to the training definitely helps.
"Everyone's goal is to win a national championship. That's on the minds of everyone and we definitely have the talent to do it. That's priority Number One."
--Greg Marsh, Stanford Athletics