Those who follow the Alexandria Cardinals gymnastics program know it’s hard to imagine Rachel Boyden without a smile on her face during a meet.
The senior is a two-year captain who has been on varsity since 8th grade. Earning that captain label does not happen without an ability to connect to teammates. For Boyden, energy and excitement have been a constant over her career. That hasn’t always been easy this year after she suffered a season-ending ACL tear in her right knee on the first day of practice.
“It was so rough,” Boyden said of the days between the injury and finding out the official results of the damage. “I was crying every day because I just wanted to know and I was so nervous. You got to put on a face (in the gym), so I was positive here and would go home and cry. Then the results came back on a Friday. My mom came home and told me, and it was not fun.”
Boyden worked all summer and fall, even making the drive to train in Perham to try to improve on where she left off a year ago. As a junior, she often went back and forth with fellow captain Kelsey Fletcher in leading Alexandria in scoring.
Boyden was working on a skill she felt confident in on the floor during Alexandria’s first day of practice when her feet planted short on the mat.
“I had a feeling it was bad,” she said. “I started crying not because it hurt but because I was scared something like that just happened. I tried to keep positive with it until we got results back and knew for sure. It took about four days.”
This was not the way Boyden wanted to finish her gymnastics career after being in the sport since she was 4-years old, but she still had a job to do. For as hard as it was early on after the injury, Boyden did not let that show much around her teammates.
“The first day when she found out, she was pretty hard on herself,” Alexandria head coach Tayler Kaufman said. “Right after she found out, she came straight to practice and was cheering everyone on. It’s never been a pity party. It’s never been about her. As a captain, she has always had a team-first mentality and even with this injury, that hasn’t changed.”
The Cardinals hosted their first home dual of the season on Tuesday when they beat Detroit Lakes 138.5-127.8. Alexandria’s last event was on the floor where the Cardinals have freshman Dylan Witt competing on varsity.
"If any of the young girls have an injury like this, hopefully they can look back on me with my injury and see how positive I was and can take that on if they ever get hurt."
- Rachel Boyden, Alexandria senior gymnast
As much as any sport, gymnastics requires athletes to be confident and bold in their skills in order to consistently score well. Boyden knows what it was like trying to accomplish that as a young gymnast, and she joined Fletcher and other older teammates in standing on the side of the mat and cheering loudly as Witt went through her whole routine.
“Rachel is always one to push us harder,” Fletcher said. “She and I went hand-in-hand in pushing each other to get those higher scores, but she’s still just as much a part of the team. She’s here every day at practice, pushing us to be our best. A lot of us do it for Rachel. It’s been a big push for us to get better having her out.”
Boyden said it’s actually been a relief in some ways now that her role has changed.
“Now meets and practices are just super fun for me,” she said. “I get to watch and support the girls without having the stress of thinking about what I need to be doing. The first meet was hard at Sartell, but after that it’s almost better.”
Kaufman said the athletes on this team trust Boyden’s feedback when she steps in to lend some advice. Boyden still feels like she’s a big part of this group, and the results are showing.
The Cardinals are within striking distance of reaching a program-record score of 142 after hitting the third highest team mark at 140.05 against St. Cloud Tech on Feb. 4. It’s natural to think about the “what-ifs” when it comes to visualizing what Alexandria might have been able to do with Boyden in the lineup, but she’s enjoying watching her teammates respond.
“It’s been super exciting just to watch them and see how they rose to the occasion,” she said. “I was on varsity for every event, so some of the young girls had to step into that position. Sara (Eddy) who’s a ninth-grader this year, she really stepped up. It’s awesome to see...They’re all working hard to improve their scores. We have so much positivity here.”
The smile and the energy that Boyden became known for in this program is back on display after a tough start to the year. It won’t happen with her scores, but she has every intention of helping this team achieve everything it can by season’s end.
“I just really hope they see I’m trying to push them to be not only better gymnasts but better people,” Boyden said. “If any of the young girls have an injury like this, hopefully they can look back on me with my injury and see how positive I was and can take that on if they ever get hurt.”