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Good Cheer: A teenager bounces back from injury

Emily O'Connell
Basim Blunt

Emily: It is not OK for you to not do your best. It is not OK to just give up. My name is Emily O'Connell. I am 17 years old and a senior at Centerville High School. I live with my mom and dad, Vivian and Pat O'Connell, along with my younger sister Sarah. I am a varsity cheerleader. I've been cheering since middle school, but really I cheer on the side and don't do flips anymore. I only wave my arms around, which is why people think it's not a sport. I started cheering because I came from gymnastics.

I was always competitive and always loved being active. But I just wanted to focus on my tumbling and cheer gave me the opportunity to do that with my friends as well. The best time I had cheering was middle school, but it was also the hardest. Between the pressure on my body, my ankles, my knees and my back clicking every time I walked. But the worst injury was my shoulder. This one Saturday, I remember jumping in the car pool to the gym that day. Each practice was two hours of nonstop tumbling. The coaches were yelling and the passive aggressive teammates were shouting when you went on the wrong count. I remember seeing my teammate, Kayla, in the corner cheering the on as I started running faster and faster until I was in the air flipping and then falling onto my shoulder.

Kayla: And you went from the corner and I was standing on the opposite end from you. But I remember seeing you start running in, you look like you had a lot of power, but you went up and just stopped. So then you fell on your shoulder and just stopped moving, and it was so scary. I'm scared to do that now because I don't want that to happen to me.

Emily: I was just laying there. I remember saying shoulder, shoulder, shoulder when I was face down on the floor. All I could feel was the pounding of the floor as everyone rushed to my side, making my shoulder hurt even more because of the springs. I had to sit out for the rest of this season and the beginning of my freshman year. Even before my surgery, I was put in a sling and was able to go to the competition the day after practice. I went through all the motions with my team, warm ups, stretches and I wasn't even fazed. But the minute that music came on and I saw all my friends on the mat competing, I broke down. I didn't believe I would tumble again after my surgery in that competition and that year after I know I mentally grew.

Right now, I might not be the best humbler in the world, but my injury showed me that if I could get through something like that, I could get through almost everything. So I want teenagers to know that it's not your fault, it's not anyone's fault that something has happened to you, but it will show who you are as a person. By the way, you get up by the way you fight, and if you try, that is all that matters.

For Dayton Youth Radio, this is Emily O'Connell.

Emily O'Connell is a graduate of Centerville High School. Special thanks to Tricia Rapoch, teacher for the Communication Arts Program at Centerville High School and to Lovely Nalls. Learn more at the school's website: http://www.centerville.k12.oh.us/CHS. Dayton Youth Radio is supported by the Virginia W. Kettering Foundation and the Ohio Arts Council.

This story was created at the Eichelberger Center for Community Voices at WYSO.