Friday, February 26, 2016

What It's Really Like To Break Your Ankle, And Return To Doing The Things You Love

            I knew the severity of my injury by the hesitation in the surgeon’s voice. When they cut the temporary cast off of my ankle, he breathed in all the air in the room before he spoke a word. That’s how I found out how badly I’d broken my ankle.

            I had broken bones before. Honestly, more than I’d like to admit. The doctors maintained an upbeat tone when I’d come in for other injuries. But as Doctor Stewart looked in shock at the size and bruising on my ankle after two weeks, I could feel the anxiety in the vibration of his voice as he told me we needed an MRI to know what was wrong exactly.  Here are some photos of my foot that day at the appointment. The next morning after my MRI, I received a call saying my surgery would be tomorrow at 1pm. 

      I showed up unaware of the procedure about to be performed. The doctor asked if I had any final questions, and I asked what he was going to do exactly...
            As it turns out, I fractured my talus bone in my ankle. (Which I would not recommend to readers at home.) To repair the crack, I would need two pins in the center of my ankle.  The Doctor told me that it would take a year to heal. I didn’t believe him then, but he would be right. I tried to run away from what he told me, but you can’t run away from a broken ankle.

Here is a photo after the surgery.

            My grandparents and my mom took great care of me after my surgery. I was in and out of sleep often and fairly medicated, so those few days are a little blurry following my procedure. The earliest thing I can remember after my ankle surgery was pain in the night. I don’t mean to whine here, but if you’re reading this and you want to know what it felt like, it fucking hurt. It would wake me in the dead of night like I was being stabbed from the inside, and the injection point for the nerve block in my thigh ached like a deep itch that it hurt to scratch.

            I opted out of the crutches quickly after falling once or twice in the ice that winter. I moved up to a stylish knee-scooter instead, which sounds way cooler than it feels to ride. I couldn’t put any weight on my leg for a good month or so after surgery, so the knee scooter saved my life. If you get one, make sure it has brakes. I rode that thing to class, practice, and even to Daytona Beach for NCA College Nationals. Here’s me on my knee scooter after surgery.

(Please don't be offended by the caption; not my snapchat photo)

So I haven't told you what I do. 

I’m a college cheerleader. I broke my ankle doing a tumbling pass. (For those of y’all who know tumbling terms, it was a round off whip through to full on spring floor.) The floor is put together with carpet-like pieces fitted together with velcro strips. Where I landed my tumbling pass, there was no Velcro, and thus, I dislocated my ankle so far that it snapped in half, essentially. That was February 27th, 2015.

My team still competed at Nationals, overcoming some incredible difficulties. Not only did we compete at Nationals, we won 1st place. And as great as that was for me to witness, I didn’t get to compete. I had to learn how to give constructive criticism and be a sideline supporter in order to feel involved in the routine. Changing roles from leading by example to leading through my corrections and comments was extremely difficult for me, but it taught me to be a better teammate and a better friend. I needed a lot of help still, and they made me feel like I was a part of it all from the sidelines. Thanks, UTA. <3

When we returned, I had to start walking around my house, and that felt like such a foreign concept when they told me I could walk. To think that, I really believed I couldn’t walk 6 months ago is mind-blowing to me, now. Soon after that, the Doctor placed me in a walking boot. I didn’t push myself the way I should have right then. I told myself that it hurt too badly, and that I could do it later. And I was wrong. If you have had surgery and are timid about using your limb again, do it now to spare the pain later.
Physical therapy started slowly and painfully. I recall the first time she told me to walk across the room without my boot, I was embarrassed to try. My teammate was there that day, also in physical therapy for an injury, and I had to pretend that I wasn’t about to cry as I walked across the room. It felt like I would scoot my foot out as far in front of me as I could and then I’d quickly shift to it. That shift was painful.  I should have made myself walk more without the boot, but I didn’t and this prolonged my recovery I think.
That was about May 2015. By July, I was walking in the brace with a crutch. I coached cheerleading camps and had to hobble around leading children through a gym, and it was hard. I’d leave my crutch somewhere thinking I’d be fine, and have to send a kid to go fetch it for me. Walking was difficult for a long time for me. I got a handicap pass that made the walks to college classes easier.
Then came the really tough part, getting back to normal activities. For most people, normal is being able to skip, or maybe go on a jog. For a college cheerleader, that’s being able to do standing backs again, and more. I needed to be able to jump up, flip, and land on this ankle again, and that- at the time- was a far-off dream. 
Physical therapy continued to become more difficult, and my ankle grew stronger every day. I relied on inspirational quotes on Instagram and watching old videos of my own tumbling to keep myself motivated. Even if I couldn’t flip, I had to stay in shape. I gained more than a few pounds after surgery, anyway. I struggled to find a workout that challenged me and raised my heart rate at first. I did a ton of pushups, curls, and handstand exercises on the wall for a while.

First, I was cleared by the doctor to stunt again. This was my first day back at stunting.

I started to workout harder as I was cleared for more activity. I would ride the elliptical for an hour at the gym, and then do arms. It took a long while before I was cleared to use the treadmill. I felt ridiculous going to workout in a boot, but you have to do what you have to do.
My therapist started doing exercises with higher impact, and I had to re-teach my ankle how to push off the ground, how to land and how to bend past its point of comfort. After what seemed like forever, in November 2015, the Doctor cleared me to tumble and jump.

At first, it still really hurt. I thought that maybe he was wrong about it being healed. I had to learn to push through the pain, and that with repetition, each time I tried would hurt a slight bit less. I’m still having to face the reality that this isn’t going to feel like it did before.
It feels as if someone put some foreign object in the center of my ankle, and I guess they kind of did. Some days I wake up, and it hurts to step forward for the first hour or so. But if I push through and don’t let it hold me back, it stops. I try to remember how badly it hurt at the beginning when it bothers me now. Sometimes it helps, sometimes it doesn’t.
The tumbling progressed much slower than I anticipated. I always hated running, but I realized that I needed to start running to build my ankle’s strength and endurance back up. If I couldn’t run, how could I expect to flip?
I would run just up to a mile and then stick my ankle directly into a bucket of ice water every day I was able to. Slowly, this got less and less painful. It was a strange feeling to know that I had the endurance to complete my run, but not the physical capability some days.
My doctors weren’t optimistic, at all. They told me that it might be time to hang up my cheer shoes and retire to a lower impact hobby. I refused to take no for an answer, and that made all the difference.

Here are some of my better days of tumbling after surgery and physical therapy.

Disclaimer: I do not own this song or any rights to it. However, Spose is a very talented rapper from Wells, Maine and this is his song, Nobody featuring Watsky. 

            Practice was much harder once I started tumbling. We don’t compete on spring floor, so practices are on dead mat. I wouldn’t recommend flips on a dead mat on a freshly healed ankle, either. I had to push myself past both the fear of doing what I’d hurt myself doing and the pain of doing it. I couldn’t have done that alone. Thank you to my teammates who pushed me to find in myself what I’d lost.
            I thought that this was the end of my battle, but the real battle came up out of nowhere for me. One day, they said we would practice on spring floor. This meant that I had to tumble on my new ankle on the same exact floor that I had broken it on. In retrospect, I let those words get to me far too much. Thoughts of the next practice circled my head like vultures, and I spent the majority of that morning freaking out about it.
            I know that I was making a mountain out of a mole hill, but this really was the most mentally stressful part of my recovery. I had dealt with the consequences of what happened that day for almost a year.  I broke my ankle February the year before, and here we were again. Déjà vu. My teammates could tell that I was stressed out, and the only ones who really understood were the people who were there when I broke it.
            It’s weird how emotional memories stick with you. That break struck my life like a wrecking ball, and reeked emotional havoc on me. I can recall the entire thing:

            I remember being late for practice that day and it was iced over and when I came into practice, my coach wasn’t mad, but I did have to tumble like the others already had. So we ran through the routine, and my toe-touch-back-tuck was great, my toe-touch-two-to-a-layout was great, and I went to the corner for my last pass-the whip through to full. I remember looking at the group of people supposed to be lining the diagonal and thinking they seemed a little off... but I had to go anyway. It was a great pass, if I do say so myself. I remember setting for my full and spinning with ease and the floating feeling on the way down to the-FUCK THAT HURT.

            And this practice in February 2016, it all came back to me like a rush and I finally knew how to end this story. My teammates cheered from the corner and around all the edges of the floor. I was crying, I’ll admit it. I was terrified, but determined. I had our choreographer stand there so I felt safe, and I ran at that corner like I wanted to smash it.
            That first full felt off, but I did it. And then I did it again, and it felt weird but better. And every time I do it, it feels more natural and like it used to. It is still a fight every day, but the fight is so worth it to get to do what I love surrounded by the people who believe that I can.

            I don’t expect that you will have a journey like mine. I’d be surprised if anyone did. But when I broke my ankle and turned to the internet for someone’s story, I didn’t find one to relate to. I hope someone, somewhere finds this and is inspired to keep going even when everything else in the world tells you that you can’t.

Your body can endure almost anything;

It’s your mind you have to convince.

Shelby Z Currie

If you have a story to share about your injury, please comment below. I'd love to hear about it.
Thanks for reading

Thursday, October 22, 2015

College Cheer Tryout Suggestions

   I would just like to take this time to offer some first-hand advice for your first college cheer tryout. When I tried out, I had trouble finding what I was looking for as far as what to expect. I have been a cheerleader for about 8 years now (I think that makes me officially...old) and a cheerleader at The University of Texas at Arlington for 3 years. There are 3 things I think are important to understand about your first college tryout.

                    1) Be both open and inviting

    This may seem obvious, but you'd be surprised how much your body language and typical behaviors can be misinterpreted by a new team. You are being judged on more than your skills, and the ideal "rookie" (or new member) is willing to try new things and accept constructive criticism. Even if you have vast experience with a skill, things are done differently in college and you need to be able to cordially accept constructive criticism from older teammates.
    And don't let being intimidated by someone allow you to put them on a pedestal. Remember that everyone is the way that they are for a reason. Everyone is fighting a battle that you may not understand, but that they have struggled through and grown because of. Your veterans have been in your shoes, and have seen many come and go through the team. The way they treat you comes from their experience and their perspective. But their opinion of you is not yet determined, and they may be skeptical of your loyalty or work ethic initially. Don't take this personally. You can prove to be a great teammate by being willing and able.
    College cheerleading involves new aspects that aren't even legal in all-star or high school. You will be asked to try something that terrifies you, and it's okay to be scared. However, if you refuse, you will not receive positive feedback from your team. Ask questions, as many as you need to understand. And be honest about your fears, and your veterans will talk you through them. Be open, willing and honest.

                    2) Push and encourage everyone else on the team

    This is a team sport, and even more so, this is more about the general success of the team than your own. College cheerleading revolves around encouragement from within and a spirit that comes from the heart. That's what wins national championships. Even if someone isn't your favorite teammate, a kind word during practice can change their whole day. You will be surprised when these same people remind you later on how much it helped them, and later on they will repay the favor when it comes to the routine.
    And you need friends on your team. Don't reject and put down your teammates, plain and simple. You never know who you will need on your side later on. And remember, dead mat hurts your body. It just does. And until college cheerleading adopts spring floors, we will all hurt equally and awfully. Try not to downplay others injuries when they complain. Imagine yourself in their shoes, and remain cordial.
    Yell for someone when you see them in need, and they will return the favor.

                    3) Wear spandex

    This is something that was not explained to me before I tried out, and I showed up in Soffee shorts. No, nobody is going to make fun of you publicly, but you will stand out. Nike pros are the most comfortable in my opinion, but any will work. (I recommend black, if you tumble, and if you know why)
    If you don't feel comfortable, by all means, wear what you want. I like to wear spandex workout pants to practice, when I don't have to do some form of thigh stand in a pyramid. But I'd wait to do this until you're certain your coach accepts wearing pants to practice. Just know that the college cheerleaders at every tryout I've been at wear spandex to tryouts and practice.

I hope that this helps someone, somewhere. 
Thanks for the read. 
Good luck at your tryout!

-Shelby Z Currie

One For The Lonely Girl

    I just want to speak to the girls who are feeling alone, and have thrown themselves on the bed in tears because they feel everything so deeply. And it may seem like the rest of the world doesn't feel the way you do, and maybe you're right, because being able to feel so deeply is a gift and a curse. It's a gift because you experience so deeply and realistically that they don't even understand. And it's a curse because they can't understand. It's difficult to empathize with the impossible for us.
    Don't settle. Ever. I don't care if it's a 3-week fling before finals or you're looking for the father of your children. If he doesn't make you feel like the most important and beautiful thing in the world, he doesn't know what he has. And if he steps all over you, challenge him. Women can no longer stand by and be coy; we must be vicious and vital and demand what we deserve. If he bailed, call him out. If he cheated, leave. If he doesn't react like he is losing the greatest prize the world has ever seen, he doesn't realize the value of the woman at his feet. If he doesn't deserve your raw, unkempt brand of affection, take it away from him. Take pride in removing yourself from a situation and keeping your head high. Take pride in being worth the wait. And take pride in the nights you spend in your bed alone, because it's better than feeling empty in a bed that is full.
    It's okay to be alone.
    It's okay to be sad about it.
    What's not okay, is devaluing yourself for immediate gratification.
    What's not fair, is allowing anyone to share in the beauty of your youth who doesn't bask in the gratitude that they have you and you alone.

    You're okay.

A Miracle Worth Mentioning (A Short Story)

I didn’t know her well. I could hardly say I knew her at all.

When I was twelve, we heard about my great grandmother falling ill. This shocking news took my family, especially my mother and grandfather, into shock. And I genuinely felt bad for not feeling a thing at the time, and justified that with the idea that I’d only seen her as a small child.

The hospital where she now laid, was where she’d been her whole life. In her youth, she’d gone up and down the hallways singing hymns as she aged from a nurse to an elderly volunteer. Everything I heard about her, I believed, but it seemed unreal. I was told about this beautiful, soulful woman with faith like a rock, and doubted this description’s reality in the back of my mind. I had never been religious. I had never discussed it. And I never thought I wanted to.

But I was in a bad place, emotionally and mentally. Looking back, I wasn’t happy. I wasn’t depressed, but going through my days stagnate and dulled was typical of me. I believe that everything happens for a reason, and I’ll never forget how she happened to me.

Granny was not doing well, to say the least. This was not a hospital visit where any real visiting occurred- this was more silence and solace. She wasn't even conscious. And so, we sat. And sometimes we stood. And restlessly, we’d return to our seats eventually. Not much was said, because there wasn’t much to say. The doctor would come in with the same burdened look on his ancient face, and he’d sigh and pet her head for a moment, but then promptly leave. At first, my grandpa asked questions about his mother, but when the news remained the same, even he gave up asking.

I recall wishing I could go home, not knowing why I had to be there to watch my great grandmother on her deathbed when I didn’t remember her. And when we left the hospital that night to head to our hotel, I didn’t realize it then, but someone responded directly to my ignorant questioning of the situation.

When we left the hospital, the awkward almost goodbyes extended were disheartening, and I hated to see my family in so much pain, but even more than that I questioned how heartless I was for not being affected. The doctor had been good friends with my grandmother for years, and the only statement he uttered while fighting back tears was “She won’t make it through the night,” and I could feel the shivering of the wrinkles on his face. So we trudged to the cramped hotel for the last night we’d spend there, and not much was said between my mother and me. I couldn’t imagine how she must have felt to be losing her grandmother, a woman I didn’t know the first thing about. I didn’t come up with anything to say to her, and we fell asleep slowly.

3am, the phone rang.

I could see it in my mom’s face- this was the call. And she didn’t answer right away- no, she took her time, waiting for that last ring, biting her lip with tears welling up in her eyes. And I closed my eyes as she answered, preparing myself for the worst. And as I opened them again, her face had softened. And I was told to get dressed because we were going. I rushed and got a crappy t-shirt and some house shoes on, and rode the two blocks to the hospital puzzled.

Upon arriving, there was a sound that caught my attention. I was making my way down hallways of linoleum heartbreak and was certain I was listening to the soundtrack of defeat. I remember its eerie growl, and it was almost a tune, maybe a song. I couldn’t decipher it, but it had my attention the whole walk to her room. And as we approached the sound was met by a similar one, coming from her room. They molded together and met in a harmonious eerie quality I wish I could put into words. It was when I saw her that I realized what I’d been hearing.

Did you ever hear that old church hymn? The one that goes “Oh, how I love Jesus?” It probably has some other verses, but those weren’t a part of this version. I suppose it was all she could remember. But she was awake. Not only awake, she was singing.

Now, in her day, Granny had a beautiful voice I’m sure, but the voice of a woman on her dying bed was anything but. And that was the irony of it, because at first it had pained my ears to listen to, and three steps later I had determined it was the most beautiful sound my ears had ever heard. And what was so breathtaking was that the only words she had uttered since she woke up were “oh, how I love Jesus” and it had grown into a song, and it hadn’t stopped.

This singing continued through the morning until it was light, until the sun shone through her window on her pale complexion and illuminated her graciousness. We had all joined in, because what else was there to do but be a part of the miracle before our eyes? Some were crying, and slowly they’d reach for someone and smile and hug them or pull them close and say something about how beautiful she was, or how godly she was, or how amazing this all was. And it was. It was the single most powerful experience of my life, and it wasn’t over yet.

The singing came to a slow stop, and although she still mumbled “oh, how I love Jesus” periodically, she began to speak to the family. She called over her sons, and she talked to them about their late father, and how much they’d both loved them. And she called my grandma to her, and held her while she cried. She called my uncles and my mother, and told them how beautiful their children were and how much they’d grown into adults she was proud of. And there was a pause after she’d reached my mom, and she said my name.

Her voice was calm but scratchy, and I was scared, but my mother pulled me to her. She held my hand, and told me how much I looked like my mother, and that she remembered her at my age. And then the unthinkable happened. She asked the rest of the family to leave the room. At that time, I realized the weight of this moment.

When they’d left, it was so silent I could taste it. Her bony fingers stroked my hand softly, and I sat there in silence anticipating what she could possibly have to say to me. What came to be still shocks me: she asked me about my relationship with Jesus.

I offered some nonchalant answer you give your grandma to please her. I knew she believed, and would be disappointed if I didn’t say the same. She squeezed my hand, harder than I expected she was capable of, and asked me to tell the truth.

So I began a serious of statements that went along the lines of: “I don’t know,” “I know I’m supposed to,” “I don’t feel comfortable discussing it,” “I don’t go to church,” “No, not really.”

Expecting a scorning from her, I was surprised to see the smile on her face echoed by the wrinkles covering the rest of its beauty. She didn’t question me. She didn’t scorn me. She loved me, you could see it in her eyes, and it was overwhelming. And she spoke, struggling slowly,

“Jesus loves you, he always has, and he always will. He will love you if you believe in Him or not. But I’ve been around for a while, and I can tell you, I’ve seen things. I’ve seen miracles, Shelby. And these past few days, He’s been with me, and with all of you. He’s here now, and He will be when I’m gone and you’re here on this bed in a hundred years. And He loves you, more than you can imagine, more than even I or your mother can. Just remember that.”

Grandma Brotzman passed away later that night. We were told that she was still singing up until her last breath, “Oh, how I love Jesus.” My grandparents said it was beautiful and peaceful, and that she said she could see him before she went, and that they’d never seen her look so happy as she did staring up at the ceiling right then.

That’s how I like to picture her: Smiling up at Him; letting Him know she was ready for Him; knowing whole-heartedly she’d be with Him soon.

After that, I was not the same, selfish girl who’d traveled to Denton earlier that week. I contemplated what she’d said for days, for weeks. I went to church, and although I didn’t discuss what happened with anyone, I thought about it the whole time. And I continued to attend, and I sat alone and thought about what it meant to believe, and to be here, and to feel what these people felt for something I didn’t understand. I couldn’t believe how public they could be with such a personal relationship, and I decided that the publicized church life wasn’t going to be for me. But the day that I decided I wasn’t going to continue coming back, they played a hymn that was familiar. And as the ominous words “Oh, how I love Jesus” echoed through the pews, I felt something for the first time in forever- I felt loved, overwhelmingly and undoubtedly.

And I took that feeling with me out the door when that song ended. And I didn’t return, and I didn’t need to, because there was a reason I’d been there. There was a reason my great grandmother was taken when she was. There was a reason that she’d recognized me that day. And to this day, I am convinced that God took a second to help me when I needed it most- at a pinnacle point in my development as a person. He stepped in, through Granny, and He loved me when I thought no one else did. She was supposed to remind me of that, and of His presence, and maybe that was what she needed to do before she left. Or maybe it was one of many things, but I believe it was the reason he made miracles happen before my eyes. He knew I was lost, and He needed my attention, so something drastic was in order.

I believe everything happens for a reason. I believe that some things fall apart so others can fall into place, and that lives end so new ones can begin. I believe in miracles, and I believe every word that beautiful woman said to me that day. Most importantly, I believe in something.