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When I Shared My Chronic Illness Story With My Gymnastics Club

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In September 2015, a friend asked me to go to the first practice of the gymnastics club on campus. Little did she know that I quit gymnastics in 2008 after an injury. I was diagnosed with reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD), which is also known as chronic regional pain syndrome (CRPS). I had stopped saying I am a gymnast and started saying I was a gymnast. I never thought I would be able to go back to the sport.

After that first practice, I had a bad flare-up and thought I couldn’t continue. But being back in the gym was one of the greatest feelings I ever had. After much consideration, I decided to join the club and give it a chance.

In the beginning, I would go home in pain after practice and question why I was doing this sport at all. I would be in my bed with my feet out to the side, since they were sensitive to the touch of anything, including blankets. I wondered whether I should continue.

I went to practice the next night, and at the end, I was sitting on the floor and my foot started shaking. I knew what was going on. I was terrified about what the other girls would think, and I thought the coaches would tell me that this might not be the sport for me. But to my surprise, it was the exact opposite.

My coaches came and sat with me and just waited it out until my foot stopped shaking. They stayed and talked to me, asking questions about RSD and how they could help. This was the first time since my injury that someone was actually interested in learning about it. I didn’t feel like I had to hide my disease from them.

Then one day, I got an email from the gymnastics club with the newsletter of events. As I was reading, I stopped and smiled. The team had organized a practice where everyone would come and wear orange to show support for me and everyone else in the RSD/CRPS community. I honestly couldn’t believe it.

On the day of our RSD awareness practice, I walked into the gym and saw everyone wearing orange. I smiled and just stood there for a second. As I got ready for practice, my coach came up to me and asked me to share my story with the team.

Nobody had ever cared about my story, and I didn’t even know how to tell it. I stood next to my coach in front of a sea of orange and began to talk. I honestly don’t remember what I said. All I can remember is thinking to myself, “They are all here supporting me. They really are my team.”

At the end of practice, I was once again unable to walk without help. I was sitting on a mat while the girls were on the floor. All of a sudden, they came running over to me and hugged me. I wanted to cry. I have never felt so loved by friends before.

Even through all of the pain, tears and falls, I made it through the season. I know I will never be able to get back to the level of gymnastics I was at before I got injured, but it doesn’t matter. My team makes it worth it. At the beginning of each practice, our coaches asked each girl to say what motivates them. When it was my turn at one of our last practices, I said new beginnings motivate me.

The sport that caused me so much pain is ultimately the sport that has given me back so much of my happiness. I couldn’t be more thankful for my wonderful team and coaches for helping me make this new beginning of mine.

I have RSD and I am a gymnast.

Originally published: August 22, 2016
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