Toni Ann Williams

Elite gymnast Toni-Ann Williams is one of the best in her field.

The Randallstown native won two state all-around championships, competed on the Jamaican national gymnastics team for three years and in 2015, was named University of California, Berkeley’s Gymnast of the Year.

“I love being able to train and flip around,” the 19-year-old college sophomore says. “It’s so much fun, and it’s the most gratifying feeling to perform.”

But the road to success hasn’t been easy for Williams. At age 14, doctors diagnosed her with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. Since 2008, Williams has also injured everything from her shoulder and back to her knee and ankle while practicing or competing.

To get back on her feet – and on the uneven parallel bars, vault and balance beam – Williams consistently turns to the team at Towson Sports Medicine, part of the University of Maryland Rehabilitation Network.

With 20 rehabilitation centers across Maryland, the University of Maryland Rehabilitation Network provides comprehensive care for patients and their families. Network professionals throughout the University of Maryland Medical System work together to help patients recover from illness or injury through coordinated physical, occupational and speech rehabilitation. This collaboration allows patients like Williams to receive the highest level of care.

Jason Shipley, physical therapist at Towson Sports Medicine, began working with Williams after she strained her hip flexor seven years ago.

Most of Williams’ subsequent injuries were minor: Ankle sprains in 2008, 2009 and 2010; a calf muscle strain in 2012; and bilateral shoulder tendonitis in 2013. Each time, Shipley coached her through exercises so she would regain her stability and strength.

“Toni-Ann is not only a very gifted athlete, but she’s an exceptionally hard worker,” Shipley says. “She always gave 100 percent in anything you asked her to do.”

“If I did get injured, I looked forward to working with him,” Williams adds.

But in May 2014, while turning on the balance beam, Williams felt pain in her knee. She says she immediately knew something was wrong.

An MRI revealed Williams had torn the lateral meniscus in her knee. Teri McCambridge, MD, a sports medicine pediatrician with University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center, part of the UM Rehabilitation Network, and Williams’ long-time doctor, recommended surgery to remove the damaged area.

Orthopaedic surgeon Scott Tarantino, MD, at UM St. Joseph Medical Center, performed the outpatient procedure, known as a right partial lateral meniscectomy. The procedure went smoothly, but before she could return to gymnastics and start her freshman year at UC Berkeley, Williams needed to complete three months of intensive physical therapy.

Once again, she turned to the UM Rehab Network for help.

“Early on, we focused on trying to get the swelling down after surgery and restore range of motion,” Shipley says.

Then, they moved on to strengthening exercises, such as leg raises, lunges and controlled squats. Within a few weeks, Williams was squatting on unsteady surfaces like balance boards.

As she progressed, Shipley challenged her more with agility exercises and plyometrics, also known as jump training.

“We try to make the final rehabilitation exercises as close as we can to the real functional activity,” he says.

And knowing Williams has excellent body control and awareness, Shipley says he wasn’t afraid to push her.

“It’s a nice challenge working with somebody who has the skills and talent she does,” he says.

By the end of her therapy sessions, Williams was doing handstands, jumping off tables and hopping over items on the ground with one leg.

“After knee surgery, I actually got more of a workout at therapy than gymnastics at the time,” Williams says with a laugh.

Looking back on her therapy, Williams says she is thankful to the entire staff at Towson Sports Medicine for helping her get a strong start on the UC Berkeley gymnastics team.

“The staff there are all nice and encouraging,” she says. “I was actually friends with a lot of them… They’re a good team.”

-    Toni-Ann Williams is stronger than ever. At a 2015 NCAA gymnastics meet, she scored a career-best 39.700 all-around score – the highest individual all-around score in the country by a freshman. She is the only gymnast in UC Berkeley history to score two perfect 10s on any event, earning them both on the vault. And this summer, she will train for the World Gymnastics Championships, to be held in Scotland in October.