Madi Donner

Madi Donner (right) with Peng Peng Lee, UCLA gymnast and Canadian Olympic team captain.


With the gymnastics competition season looming, an 8-year-old Edmond gymnast found herself on the sidelines after an injury made it necessary to postpone her training. Physical therapy became her best chance to train in time to return to competition.

Madilyn “Madi” Donner has been a competitive gymnast since she was just 6 years old. Her passion for the sport and her eagerness to compete are evident in her level of achievement and the multiple awards earned at her gymnastics studio. But for Madi, everything came to a halt when she lost the use of her right arm, the result of a practice-related injury.

On March 8, 2018, Madi was practicing a tumbling pass when a landing went wrong. Her father, David Donner, took her to the emergency department at The Children’s Hospital. 

“They took my vitals and an X-ray, then put me in a splint for a few days,” Madi said. “And then for the checkup I got to pick out a blue cast, which is my favorite color.”

Madi’s treatment included four days in a splint as swelling subsided, followed by two weeks in a cast. Anticipating removal of the cast and a return to training, Madi went to her follow-up appointment with excitement, but received shocking news. Even while immobilized in the cast, the bone had been displaced, resulting in a lateral epicondyle fracture of the elbow, doctors said. Surgery was the only viable option. The procedure, which took place the following day, left her right arm with pins, minor scars and another cast. 

Most kids heal after this corrective surgery and regain motion after six months; however, because Madi’s arm had been at a 90-degree angle for several weeks, her arm grew stiff and lost mobility. Once again, with competition season around the corner, physical therapy was essential if she was to resume training in time to compete.

Madi underwent therapy at OU Medical Center Edmond - Edmond Physical Therapy, Edmond’s only outpatient physical therapy center with pediatric specific programming and equipment. Jay Wheat, MPT, director of rehab services at the center, created a specialized program for his young patient.

“You can’t do drills if you can’t fully extend your arm,” Wheat said. “So for Madi, we started slow with gradual movements, and then moved to athletic-specific exercises and movements.”

Over the course of three months, Madi went through rigorous sessions with Wheat, as often as three times a week. Treatments included soft tissue and joint mobilizations, static to dynamic stretching and cupping. 

Through good days and difficult ones, Madi persevered, gaining strength as she continued to train with her teammates. She intended to avoid falling behind and to stay on track with her physical conditioning.

“Treatments were pretty tough. We didn’t put light pressure on her arm to stretch it out; we worked it pretty hard,” Wheat said. “But the whole time, she knew what she wanted the end result to be — to return to competition — so she worked extremely hard.”

After 10 weeks of therapy, Madi began to put weight on her arm and eased back into her gymnastic specialty, the bars. It took more time and effort than before, but Madi was ready to compete when the season finally arrived.

Although she missed her USA Gymnastics Level 3 State Meet due to the injury, the spring 2019 season proved to be a winning season for Madi. She competed the next year to qualify for level 4 and won champion in bars and second all-around. Even her regular fan base had grown.

“After spending so much time with Madi I knew I had to see her in action,” Wheat said.

Now 10 years old, Madi will compete this coming season to advance to a skill level of 6.

The OU Medical Center Edmond-Edmond Physical Therapy is located at 305 S. Bryant, Suite 140.