A few weeks ago I met a new friend while climbing Mount Bierstadt in Colorado. We got to talking about our outside jobs, activities and hobbies when our true passions came through. As you hopefully know, dance is one of my main passions; hers was field hockey. And while I don’t know much about field hockey, fellow athletes are easy to talk and relate to.
Later I learned that she had been through an extremely traumatic injury that changed her entire life, which inspired me.
She agreed to an interview to share her story of injury, frustration and overcoming this huge challenge. I hope this story gives dancers, teachers and parents some guiding light when dealing with such an injury.
Tell Us About Your Injury:
“In high school I was at a college showcase for field hockey when a defender from the opposing team tripped me with her stick and then proceeded to topple hard on top of me.
The fall ripped my left hip out of its socket and fractured my femur.
I thought my dream of playing Division I hockey and getting a scholarship was over but I pushed myself to get back in the game and achieve those exact goals. Following my four years of collegiate hockey, I was diagnosed with avascular necrosis and required a full hip replacement at the age of 24.”
What was going through your mind following your injury?
“With my first surgery, I was worried about losing the opportunity to play the game I love. I was determined to get back to hockey even with doctors believing I would walk with a limp.
The full hip replacement was a completely different beast. “No more running” was a solid statement that was repeated over and over again by multiple orthopedic physicians. They were taking away a passion and a stress reliever. My head was swirling with fragments of their conversations… “Two more replacements in your lifetime” “Daily shots” “Early onset arthritis” “No more field hockey” I learned to embrace the setbacks, not let them define me.”
How did you “survive” not being able to play field hockey for 8 months during recovery?
“It took me 8 months to get a stick in my hand and feet on the pitch my first go around. I didn’t have a second to feel blue. Family and friends near and far bombarded me with calls, visits, cards and just that pure kind of love that wouldn’t let me feel alone on my way to recovering.”
Were you rusty when you finally jumped back in?
“I was a tad rusty back on the pitch. My speed dropped a few notches and my cuts weren’t as crisp. As a result, I was on the field on Saturday and Sunday by myself. I wouldn’t let this surgery takeaway take away my will to play. I never fully got back to where I was, but it was pretty darn close. ”
How long did it take you to feel 100% recovered?
“There were complications with my full hip replacement. I jumped from seizures to a blood transfusion. There were shots I needed to take every day in order to eat. I became impatient with relearning to walk again. Moving from walker to cane to crutches was a long process.”
What helped you through your sedentary period?
“My mind and body aren’t fans of standing still.
Being constrained to bed for months was a struggle. I gave up little freedoms like putting on socks and taking showers by myself. Becoming ever ridiculously reliant on the people around me was hard and humbling. I took to devouring books and starting a blog (http://mindovametal.wordpress.com/). I couldn’t continue training for my half marathons and needed something to fill that hole.
That’s when I thought of a challenge to hike a 14er on the one year anniversary date of my surgery. It kept me focused on the hard days of when home physical therapy of simply lifting my leg was painful. The thought of reaching that summit kept me lifting.”
What did you do to get back in shape?
“It didn’t feel very quick but I found a knockout physical therapist who gravitated to athletes and appreciated my drivenness. Multiple sessions with him lead to a good pace on the recovery train. Because there were so many restraints on what I could do physically with the months that followed, I created a few loopholes by attending softcore physical classes at my gym. I have the hip of a 80 year old, why not take a yoga class specifically created for them? My older work out comrades provided humor and extra determination to stay fit which was just the right energy to absorb. I also signed up for Silversneakers which is a shallow water pool session with a floating belt with them. ”
What was the hardest part of dealing with this injury?
“Depending so much on other people was difficult. Giving up my independence was really humbling. Before my surgery I reached out to our local paper that had covered my high school hockey career and asked if I could submit a piece thanking my parents for being the ultimate coaches getting me through all of life adversities so they could read it while I was on the operation table. I knew they were in for another rough few months with me.”
“The second hardest part was switching my goals up. I was training to run a half marathon at the time. That runner’s high is addicting and, poof, sorry, now it’s gone. Filling that goal with a 14,000 ft mountain was a great choice, but I didn’t buy into it so much at first. Now, with four 14ers to my name after surgery, I can admit I’m slightly addicted to altitude gain.”
What advice do you have for other athletes going through a life-changing injury?
“Be stubborn. Just because you re-adjust your sails a little doesn’t mean wip out the white flag. Maybe it makes you reach for something bigger you hadn’t even considered. Sure, playing field hockey is now off the table for me but now I work for Team USA as the communications manager for USA Field Hockey and travel with our U.S. National Teams. Sometimes fate steps in with a curveball. It doesn’t mean you’re pushed back to zero. Bigger, greater adventures are out there. You just don’t know it yet. ”
“Our society defines beauty with smooth, flawless skin. My scars don’t fit that mold. They’re ridged with staple markings and show when I throw on a bathing suit. It took a minute to become comfortable with them because of this skewed perspective of ideal bodies we’re forced to digest in magazines and online. Now I recognize my scars as the best tattoo I could ever have and more like marks of pride.”
Injuries are always lurking in the background of taxing sports and activities. One extreme injury in dance and you can be out for months. Even worse, it can change the anatomy of your body, forcing you to decrease or change your activity. Hopefully this inteview gives any injured dancers some hope and inspiration. Rest, push your self and dance on!