Kelly, this week’s New York Jets Flight Crew Gameday Girl, will never forget the summer of 2009.
It was the toughest summer of her life.
That June, participating in a hip-hop class at the Broadway Dance Center, Kelly fractured her L-3 vertebra. The muscle that was attached to her spine ripped off a piece of the bone, damaging her sciatic nerve. The injury required surgery to remove the bone and, interestingly, was diagnosed by Dr. Damion Martins, the Jets’ director of internal medicine.
“My injury that I had,” Kelly said, “they said the other two people that had it in the world were rugby players. They said it was pretty aggressive and had never seen it.”
Initially, the second-year Flight Crew member continued dancing, unaware of the severity of the injury.
“It honestly felt like a muscle problem because a lot of it had to do with my muscle,” she said. “But I didn’t know it was my bone damaging my sciatic nerve.”
The surgery sidelined her for six months and the recovery process began with attending three to four physical therapy classes a week. She also had a machine with shock wires hooked up to her, helping build and contract her muscles.
“It was hard. I was always afraid to dance after that," she said. "I was afraid to do any type of jump or big movement.”
When Kelly finally did start moving again, she said the pain felt like a pulling sensation in her back. The muscle was so tight that she was forced to do extensive stretching.
“I was so upset,” she said. “I couldn’t move. I was pretty much on bed rest for quite a few months. Then once I first started trying to walk, I couldn’t walk by myself. I was in a wheelchair for a while. It was almost embarrassing, because I know how strong I was and I’m not the type of person that likes to have help from people.”
The surgery was Kelly’s third overall but her first due to injury. Keeping a level state of mind, her No. 1 goal following the surgery was just to get back to where she’d been as a dancer.
“Then it was being better than where I was,” Kelly said. “That was the next obstacle.”
Just 10 months after the surgery, Kelly appeared recovered and ready. She tried out for the Flight Crew and was confident that she’d earn a spot on the team. However, that wasn’t the case as she was cut during the final round of auditions.
“I felt like I was going to make the team,” she said. “I don’t know why. I thought I was going to make it, definitely.”
Looking back on it today, Kelly acknowledges she had a lot of maturing to do. Not only had she just turned 18, but she also needed to learn how to look the part of a Flight Crew Cheerleader.
“It was motivating,” she said of getting cut. “It encouraged me to work harder. I decided to go to every prep class that was offered by the team. All throughout the audition process and the prep classes, I’d go up to Denise [director Denise Garvey] and ask her for advice and more advice and more advice. She kept telling me positive things.”
That positive support along with a reaffirmed attitude helped Kelly make the squad the following year. And ever since, she’s felt limitless, proudly living her dream.
“From the time I found out the Jets had cheerleaders, I knew that was what I wanted to do,” Kelly said. “I wasn’t going to let anything stop me. Whether it was an injury; my mom had cancer quite a few times in between — there were so many things that could have held me back from trying out and trying to fulfill my dream and I didn’t let it. Every bad thing ended up being a steppingstone to achieving.”
Achieving, and maybe just as important, overcoming.