Dolfo back doing what she loves
A year ago, Tanika Dolfo spent her 14th birthday under the knife, having surgery to repair a detached labrum in her hip.
Compare that to this year, and the Langley teen — who turned 15 on July 9 — is getting ready to represent Team Fraser Valley in track and field at the upcoming B.C. Summer Games.
The Games run in Nanaimo this week (July 17 to 20).
“Going into this year, that was the one thing I really wanted, to be able to say I went to the Summer Games,” she said.
“That is a pretty big deal for kids my age.”
The last two years have been forgettable for Dolfo, largely due to the pain in her right hip.
The injury was likely a result of wear and tear on her body, likely from her time as a competitive gymnast, she figures.
Dolfo began in the sport at age four with the Langley Gymnastics Foundations and progressed through the competitive stream all the way to Level 3.
The pain had gotten so bad that while with her family watching older brother Braedon compete live at the 2012 Paralympic Games, she was in pain from walking around London and would need time to rest and recover.
And while it was at this point that she realized the extent of her injury, Dolfo was able to draw inspiration from the athletes she saw competing at the Paralympic Games.
“Seeing all those athletes with disabilities … look at where they are now because they didn’t give up,” she said.
“I looked at my life (and thought) even though this is a bump in the road, I shouldn’t give up, I should keep going.”
But with physiotherapy not alleviating the pain, Dolfo had to shut sports down completely two years ago.
In addition to gymnastics, Dolfo has been a long-time member of the Langley Mustangs Track and Field Club.
“It was really hard for me because I have grown up with sports being a big part of my life; this is what I love to do,” she said.
“Sports are my passion and I couldn’t participate the way I wanted.”
She underwent surgery last July and spent the next couple of months on crutches.
One of the most difficult parts was being house-bound while her friends enjoyed summer excursions to the beach and into Vancouver.
Dolfo, meanwhile, spent her time first resting, and then rehabbing.
“It was a challenging time, but in the end, it was worth it,” she said.
And there was no question Dolfo would return to sport, and while she loved gymnastics, the physical toll it had taken was too much for her to continue so she chose to focus on track and field.
“In my head (not returning to sport) was never really a choice,” she said.
“I would never want to stop. (The injury) happened, but I am not going to let it stop me.”
After two years away from the sport and 11 months following the surgery, Dolfo made a triumphant return.
Competing at the Mustangs annual Pacific Invitational Track and Field meet at McLeod Athletic Park in mid-June, she won gold in the hammer throw and bronze in the shot put, achieving personal bests in both.
“It was so exciting,” she said. “For me, it was everything to be competing again and I was just really thankful for everyone who helped me get there.
“Without them, I wouldn’t be here, it is just a really grateful feeling.”
“I am not surprised,” said Dwayne Lotnick, one of her long-time coaches with the Mustangs.
“She worked really hard.”
And while some athletes are extremely focused — which she is — you can tell Dolfo enjoys the sport and has fun, he added.
Lotnick said he could tell there was some nervousness as Dolfo worked her way back, but eventually that vanished as her confidence grew.
“It is tough for athletes trying to come back … there is always that doubt,” he said. “(But) when they get their confidence back, you just see it.”
An injury can also serve the purpose of helping an athlete moving forward.
“They understand their body a little bit more and they understand it is a long road back and you have to work hard, you have to do all the little things.”
Now that Dolfo is back in the swing of things, she is hoping to keep busy this summer.
In addition to the upcoming B.C. Summer Games, she is hoping to be selected for Team B.C. to compete at the Canadian Legion youth track and field championships, which will be held Aug. 15 to Aug. 17 at Langley’s McLeod Athletic Park.
Dan Ferguson/Langley Times
Tanika Dolfo took the gold medal in the hammer throw at the Langley Mustangs' Pacific Invitational track and field meet at McLeod Athletic Park last month (June).