His hands dusted with chalk and tied in grips, 13-year-old gymnast Armando Visitacion prepared to glide on the high bar during a December 2016 training session. Suddenly, everything went wrong. The grips held onto his hands, but his body swung forward. Both wrists shattered, and Visitacion fell to the mat.
Visitacion’s parents, Nicole and Armando Sr., were relaxing at their Camarillo home when the phone rang. It was their son’s coach, who frantically said, “Armando’s okay, but you need to come get him.” Visitacion’s father rushed to the gym to pick up his son, and immediately took him to the Emergency Room.
The family met at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, trying to keep a calm presence for their son. For Visitacion, the pain was unbearable. He was rushed to the X-Ray room and spent more than three hours undergoing tests, in addition to taking several medications to manage the pain.
After a long night in the emergency room, Visitacion came home in splints. “He was pretty out of it, and he usually has a high threshold for pain. That’s when we really knew this was something serious,” his mother Nicole said.
She propped him up on a large, suave chair in the living room with both arms elevated, supported by pillows and ice packs to bridge swelling.
The following morning, Visitacion got casts on both arms and traveled back to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles to meet his doctor, Nina Lightdale-Miric. She determined that he broke the radius and ulna at the level of his wrists.
Visitacion made it clear from the beginning of the recovery process that he would not be defined by the injury, and was determined to return to gymnastics. “I looked at both X-Rays before seeing Armando and expected to see a kid with broken bones, two casts and just traumatized really,” Lightdale-Miric said. She added, “Instead, I saw a strong young man letting me know he would get better.”
An orthopaedic surgeon specializing in pediatric sports injuries, Lightdale-Miric’s goal is to get patients back to their sport. It doesn’t always happen that way. This is mainly because when young athletes break bones, it can be devastating due to the damage to their growth plates.
In a matter of about two months, however, Visitacion grew through his injury and strengthened himself. As described by Lightdale-Miric, he went through a process where his bones were crooked, but once stabilized, a well timed growth spurt sped up the healing process immensely.
His mother says he willed his bones to grow back straight, and she has a point. While there was certainly a degree of great timing with his growth spurt, Visitacion’s recovery time of 12 weeks was miraculous. Lightdale-Miric said, “he got a little bit taller at the perfect time, and you can’t even tell anything was ever broken at this point.”
Visitacion dedicated himself to recovery, and it paid off. After 12 weeks of immobility, he got the casts off. “It was a relief, but was also tough because I couldn’t get back to gymnastics right away,” he said.
Visitacion’s mind was clearly ready, but his wrists weren’t. For one month, he faced the challenge of mentally being an athlete, while physically not being there yet. “It was really important for me to use that time wisely so that when I was cleared to start training again, I’d be ready.”
He needed to wear braces on both arms, and stay disciplined. “He was able to handle that challenge of being out of casts but not yet being back at gymnastics,” Lightdale-Miric said.
In mid March, Visitacion was cleared to start cross training. His journey to returning to the mat was in full swing. Visitacion and his mother immediately sought the help of Dr. David Cruz, United States Men’s Gymnastics National Team Physician, in Orange, California.
Dr. Cruz gave Visitacion an event return training schedule, and he quickly got to work. He began with a weight-bearing progression which started with simple wall presses and push-ups, working his way up to advance to the next level of rehabilitation training. Two weeks later, he progressed to the event return training, a four-week schedule beginning with basic floor tumbling.
Visitacion had to start over at a beginner gymnast level, and work his way back up. Another week passed and he transitioned to the competition floor, practicing simple vault drills and basic parallel bar work. Soon after, he earned full clearance on the floor and rings, and progressed all the way back to working on a full horizontal bar.
Returning to the horizontal bar was a huge moment for Visitacion. Months prior to the injury in May of 2016, he competed in the United States Men’s Junior Olympic National Championships in Battle Creek, Michigan, and advanced to the finals for Horizontal Bar. “It felt amazing getting back out there, knowing the hard work was really paying off,” he said.
By the fourth week of his rehabilitation training, Visitacion was fully cleared for all events. Through the assistance of gym coaches and strength trainers, he was back. This past June, Armando Visitacion made the impossible, possible.
In the span of seven months, he fully recovered from two broken wrists and returned to gymnastics. He straightened without surgery and is back to having a structurally perfect wrist, fit for gymnastics.
Throughout his rehabilitation process at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, Visitacion inspired many. For Dr. Lightdale-Miric in particular, his story was captivating. “I see 40 patients per day with broken bones and if they knew what he did and how he did it, that would be a very powerful message to a young child coming into my office,” she said.
She asked Visitacion if he would become an ambassador of sorts, for young athletes who are faced with devastating injuries. “He gladly accepted, showed up the next day at a CHLA event and spoke to a few hundred people about his story.”
Visitacion is motivated to continue inspiring others with his story. “I see my injury and what I overcame as a way to help others,” he said.
Today, Visitacion is a 14-year-old Freshman at Rancho Campana High School in his hometown of Camarillo, California. He’s back to a highly competitive level in gymnastics, level 10 to be exact.
“I’ve learned that practice really does make perfect, in gymnastics you can’t just do everything right the first time. It takes work and discipline,” he said. If he continues advancing at his current pace, Visitacion is headed for college gymnastics, and possibly beyond.
He continues to compete in national competitions such as the USMGA Junior Olympics, and has dreams of participating in the Los Angeles 2028 Olympic Games. Regardless of what happens with his gymnastics career, one thing’s for certain. Visitacion is a fighter, and possesses the determination to reach any goal he sets in life.