When I was younger, I played baseball. I would often be sidelined with unexplained, pervasive joint pain. My coach joked that I must be made of glass. I thought the comment was funny, but at the same time, I was upset that I couldn’t even walk without shooting pains traveling from my hips to my knees.
Still without a diagnosis, I took a risk the summer before high school and went on a hiking trip through the Pacific Northwest. The paths we encountered were steep and rocky. I fought through the pain, but after only one week, I couldn’t walk on my own. I flew back home, angry that I was unable to finish this amazing trip. I visited many doctors, who were stumped. I took countless tests, but none revealed the cause. Finally, a genetic test determined I had ankylosing spondylitis. I was given medication that alleviates some of the pain and stiffness.
Although the disease restricts my mobility, I was determined to join the gymnastics team my freshman year. I am proud to have earned three varsity letters since then and I look forward to serving as team captain this year. I joined the diving team my sophomore year, earning two varsity letters. I will serve as captain of the diving team this year as well.
During my first years in these sports, I would sometimes experience so much pain that I had to lie down, causing me to lose valuable practice time. Even when I was able to practice, AS would hinder my ability to do certain tricks. Both gymnastics and diving require immense mental strength. Sitting out while watching others continue to practice was discouraging. I sometimes doubted my capabilities. But as the years went on, I figured out what hurt, and how to adapt or push through the pain when necessary.
I am known around the gym for my do-or-die attitude. While learning new tricks, I refuse to move on until I make progress, or successfully perform them to my satisfaction. My coaches in both sports often tell me to stop, but I just look at them and say, “One more.” Quitting is not on my list of things to do.
My persistence has paid off. I have set many goals and achieved them. In gymnastics, I have made it to the Illinois High School Association’s (IHSA) State Competition twice. I have mastered skills that few competitors have, and continue to place in competitions. Junior year, during the Sectionals meet, I took first place on parallel bars against one of the toughest competitors in Illinois, automatically advancing to the State Competition. I haven’t made it to the finals yet, but I intend to make it happen. During diving season junior year, I made it to the IHSA State Competition, the first diver from Highland Park High School to do so in the past fifteen years. Competing with dives that are among the highest in degree of difficulty, my scores are within 15 points of school records in both meets and invitationals. I have set a goal to “get my name on that board.”
It has taken me ten years to learn how to handle the impact AS has on my life. It has taught me to be a problem solver, to be resilient, determined, and dedicated. These traits will serve me well as I work to achieve my dream of becoming a surgeon. I hope that by becoming a doctor I can help alleviate the pain of others and solve their medical mysteries.