Today the world celebrated Earth Day. Typically, I spend Earth Day reflecting on how I can help the Earth. This year I spent Earth Day reflecting on how the Earth has helped me.
Growing up I had one dream, to dance ballet. I took my first class at age five and was hooked. I took my final recital very seriously (I'm the determined looking one on the right), and spent years afterwards dreaming of the older girls, twirling around the stage in their tulle and pointe shoes. I spent the next two years prancing around the soccer field, trying to convince my parents that team sports were lost on me and I belonged in a ballet studio.
By the time I started high school I was dancing for hours every day, squeezing study sessions in between classes and rehearsals. My entire world revolved around ballet and I wouldn't have had it any other way.
Unfortunately, all my plans were derailed when I had knee surgery in the fall of 2007. Despite my surgeon's promises of a speedy recovery, I faced set-back after set-back that prevented me from returning to the studio. It wasn't until the spring of 2008 that an orthopedic specialist who worked with the Cincinnati Ballet told me that continuing to dance ballet would have the equivalent damage as holding a blowtorch to my knee. In other words, my life as a ballerina was over.
It took me a long time to let go of those dreams and an even longer time to heal physically. Ballet left me with multiple stress fractures in my left foot and ankle, a misaligned spine, and arthritis, tendinitis, and severe cartilage damage in my right knee. I was told I would never dance again, would likely never run, ski, or climb mountains, and could expect to have a full knee replacement by my early 30's.
Over the next few years, I trudged through multiple rounds of physical therapy and came to accept a certain amount of daily pain and strict limitations on physical activity. When I studied abroad in Costa Rica during college I was relieved to learn that another classmate also suffered from tendinitis in her knees. We did our best to keep up on many of the amazing trails we got to hike in Central America, but some afternoons found us halfway up a volcano, sitting and massaging our knees while the rest of our class kept climbing to the top.
It wasn't until I moved to Portland, Oregon after graduating college that I finally found the motivation to get serious about healing my knee. I started to welcome the physical therapy exercises that I once dreaded. The change? I realized that more physical therapy meant more backpacking trips, longer hikes, higher mountains. Before moving to Portland and getting a taste for hiking in the Columbia River Gorge and Forest Park I didn't realize what I was really missing out on. Now I can't get enough.
I still need my knee brace some days, and never leave for a trip without a hefty supply of Advil. However, I've also taken long backpacking treks into the wild without my knee brace and hiked on trails with steeper elevation gain than I ever thought my knee could handle. Some things are still out of my reach (for now...), but I'm confident that one day I'll be able to climb those mountains, or maybe make it back to Nicaragua to conquer one of those volcanoes I had to sit on the sidelines for.
So, I want to thank you, Mother Nature. Thank you for giving me something to work towards. Thank you for filling my life with beautiful things and helping me overcome my injury. Thank you for filling the void left by ballet and giving me a new passion. I'll never stop appreciating you.