I am an adult Irish dancer. I took my first Irish dance class over two years ago and liked it so much I switched from a non-competitive to a competitive school, Trionoide Academy of Dance, last December. I never thought much of getting sports injuries because I already had a bad one: a very bad back. Over twenty years ago I had a three-year Army ROTC scholarship at Virginia Tech, but that was taken away once we discovered I had two mangled lower back discs due to genetic anatomy. Good stuff, right? I overcame my back issues and even ran a marathon and several half marathons to prove that back issues can’t stop ya. I suppose the real test was when I had my first born and suffered horrible pain in my back and left leg when he was 18 months old. Right after tax season April 2004, I had a microdiscectomy to take care of the issue. If I did my proper core exercises, I didn’t have to worry.
So back to Irish dance. Because of my back issues, anatomy and intense workouts, thanks to our outstanding dance teacher, I somehow manifested a stress fracture on my right foot. Right after our warm up on Wednesday, September 9, I felt a weird pain in the top of my foot and knew something was wrong. One of my fellow adult dancers diagnosed it right away saying, “If it is a stress fracture, you need to stop dancing right away or you’ll make it worse.” Yikes.
I had to take three weeks off in October because I had stitches in my right calf after mole extraction surgery. During this time, I went to a large orthopedic practice to see what the heck was going on. They said it was tendonitis and to put some Salonpas on it. I didn’t feel complete with that diagnosis. And I knew something was seriously wrong when I returned to dance practice and I couldn’t land with my right foot. We had a performance that night at Tir Na Nog Irish pub, so of course I had to push on through with my six scheduled dances. The soft shoe dances were close disasters (don’t know how I faked my landings) and the hard shoe dances were tolerable. I had a problem. A real problem. My fellow dancers and coach were all concerned and encouraged me to seek more help. But I had already gone to a doctor! I had already rested! What if I couldn’t dance anymore? Was I too old to dance? Too old for the rigorous pounding? After watching my classmates on stage, I knew I had to keep dancing and I needed to find a solution to my gimpy, 43-year-old foot.
My son won a Fleet Feet gift certificate for winning 3rd place in the 8K Oktoberfest Run a few weeks back. Fleet Feet is a running store that sells shoes, KT Tape and cool socks for your arms. As I was picking my KT Tape, I shared my foot issue with the manager. She recommended a foot doctor who would want me to return to dance and would help me get there. I made an appointment with Raleigh Foot and Ankle Center the next day and Dr. Boehm got me in the “boot” for the next six weeks. My kids could sure hear me coming up the stairs. He said my foot would be stronger than before. I was prescribed no dancing and hardly any physical activity except cycling and swimming. Even most of the weight machines were banned for me.
My foot still felt iffy after a bunch of travel in December and I worried I wouldn’t be able to start dance classes back up in January. Meanwhile, I signed up for private physical therapy sessions where my PT, Gail Orrin, focused on my vision and coordination. She told me I had to train my brain to know that it was okay for my foot to move. Once I trained my brain, then the healing would take place. Mind over matter. Thanks, Gail!
January arrived and I started up dance classes. My elementary school-classmates were so excited I returned to dance! I was touched they missed me. Unfortunately, I won’t dance with them anymore because they all got promoted to the next level. Darn! Although my foot is officially healed, I still have a bunion on my right foot that prevents flexibility and the rest of my foot feels stiff. I’m in twice-a-week therapy now to get my foot back to “normal.” My dance goal is to get stronger, work on all my steps and eventually join my former classmates in their upper level class.
This Friday is the Raleigh Feis, or competition, and it’s my second time competing at this venue. I have signed up for five dances: three soft shoe and two hard shoe. After dance practice today, I noticed my right leg not wanting to jump as high as my left; it’s protecting the foot, which means I need to do more brain training exercises!
I believe if you want your body to heal, it will heal. Don’t use the excuse of age to stop whatever you want to do. After all, my favorite holiday is coming up and you know I can’t miss out all those St. Patrick’s Day performances!