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Navigating the maze: recovering from surgery

 In Injury & Recovery

Submitted by Kaileah Long, CCD Alumna and an Apprentice with Oklahoma City Ballet

I am a CCD alumna and currently a dancer with Oklahoma City Ballet. Eight years ago today, I was going into surgery to get the labrum repaired in my right hip, with another surgery for my left hip in two months. I was 16 and about to start my junior year of high school, and taking a year off was certainly not what I had in mind. I had an amazing summer plan and felt like I was on top of my game, but my body said otherwise. I was so confused and felt like my future was, all of a sudden, uncertain. I knew surgery was the best thing for me to do, but for the first little while, I was so crushed and confused how this happened. I had FAI, femoral acetabular impingement, which means that the bone structure in my hips wasn’t shaped correctly. My femur was shaped in a way that it hit my acetabulum (hip socket) every time I lifted my legs, which resulted in a labral tear in both hips. My surgery was to repair my labrum and shave down the femur, so I could lift my legs safely. 

Recovering from surgery is a difficult journey, but extremely rewarding. Most people think that it’s all about your body recovering, which is partially correct, but a lot of it is also recovering mentally. Being a dancer, dancing is our passion, our love, our identity. When I was laying on my bed with ice packs surrounding a very numb leg, I was having a little identity crisis! What would this mean for my dancing? I had so many things I was excited to do, why did this have to happen now? Will I be able to dance the way I once did? Who am I if I’m not able to dance? 

After my summer of surgeries and learning to walk on my repaired hips, I was finally able to start taking ballet classes at CCD! Although I wasn’t able to take class with all my friends right away, I was still so happy to take class even at a lower level. For a while it felt like I was dancing in someone else’s body, but after some time and patience, it started to feel like a new normal. I decided to take this opportunity to really relearn steps and make sure I was using the correct musculature for everything. It took a lot of patience, but every week I was able to add something more. More turnout, lift my legs a little higher, progress to center work, and eventually jumps! 

Once I was finally released from my physical therapist and my surgeon, I was so incredibly happy and relieved! But the work never stops. My hips have been, and will always be, something that I have to focus extra on for the rest of my career. I’ve had to put a lot of extra work in like going to physical therapy, cross training, among many other things. I’ll admit that it wasn’t always easy. There were times that I got so frustrated that I wanted to give up. Sometimes I still get frustrated, but I always have to remind myself that getting to dance and perform is 100% worth all the frustrations and struggles. 

For those of you who are currently going through it or have gone through a major injury or surgery, you’re doing great. Your body is healing, and it will take time, even though it might be frustrating. You’re strong and you will make it! Take this opportunity to do things you don’t usually have time to do, talk to friends you’ve lost touch with, or pick up a new hobby. You will become stronger from this experience. If you want to take your dancing to a professional level, you still can! It’s not impossible! Or if you move on to a new adventure in life, your body will be healthier and stronger than before. I found that I’ve gained an even greater appreciation for my body and being able to dance everyday without pain. A few years ago, I decided to take today to celebrate another year in a healthy body, a strong mind, and a strong body.

After the first FAI surgery – June 2013
Kaileah with Dr. Brian White – February 2014
Summer 2018 – Photo credit  Francisco Estévez Photography

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