“Alex, for the hundredth time, STOP DOING HANDSTANDS ON THE COUCH!”
“The curb next to the main road is not an acceptable balance beam.”
“Take a break from the trampoline, just for five minutes, and come practice piano!”
Growing up, I had a lot of energy. My entire world was a playground. Not a day went by that I didn’t make up gymnastic routines in the backyard and make my parents come and watch me. Around my fifth birthday, my parents answered my pleas: They finally signed me up for gymnastics. Though it was just a local Parks and Recreation program, I instantly fell in love. My zeal for the sport carried on through my elementary school years and began to consume much of my time and brain space.
When I was about seven years old, my right foot began to hurt. I didn’t think too much of it; all gymnasts deal with aches and pains, right? I had always been a bit of a perfectionist. I wanted to believe that I was in control. Weeks went by, my foot swelled, and the discomfort became unbearable. My mom carried me in to my pediatrician, and he promptly sent me in for X-rays. I was soon referred to a podiatrist, who found a small stress fracture in the center of my foot’s arch. We weren’t too worried, as he didn’t seem to be overly concerned. But I had to stay off of it for six weeks.
During that time, I trained any way I could, and I couldn’t wait to jump right back into my practice. The moment the crutches were gone, I did just that. However, things still weren’t right. I no longer felt confident in my skills. My foot felt delicate and weak—almost as if my bones were made of glass and any hard landing would send me back to the couch. I soon came to the harsh understanding that this was my reality as I received the diagnosis of a second fracture.
I made every effort to keep optimistic and push through. I thought, Every Olympian has a story. This is mine! But things weren’t getting better. I prayed and prayed that God would heal me and make everything go back to normal, but I kept getting breaks in the same spot. Every time I went back to gymnastics, it was only a matter of time before the injury recurred. The pain had spread to my ankles, knees and hips.
Eventually, I was sent to an orthopedic specialist. As she examined my legs, she found that in the process of compensating for the discomfort, I had managed to throw off the alignment in all of my joints from the waist down. Of course, my first question was “When can I go back to the gym?” She calmly explained that it was too early to have an answer for me, but that I would need to take the summer off and spend my time in physical therapy. I was disappointed, but determined to work hard. I thought that if I just showed those therapists how well I could do what they asked, that surely I’d be fine in no time.
I was wrong yet again. This had become a trend. I was slowly losing control, and that terrified me.
I will never forget the day when I sat with my feet dangling off of the examination table and casually asked, “Liz, how does everything look? Am I good for the fall gym session?” She paused from her paperwork, looked up at me and smiled compassionately. “I think we need to explore some new options for you.” My heart sank, and I felt myself zoning out as she continued, “Your limbs simply cannot take anymore impact. You could try biking, or swimming….” I think that deep down I had known that this news was inevitable, but I just wasn’t willing to accept it as my situation.
In the months that followed, I slipped into a dark period of my life. I didn’t have much drive to do anything. I went through phases where I constantly read my Bible, searching for answers. Then there were times when I just didn’t care. I didn’t want to be with my friends. The giddy excitement that had always characterized me was replaced with confusion and anger. Why would God let this happen? Why would he take away the only thing that I loved?
One day as I sat down at the piano to practice my lesson for the week, something happened. Rather than just going through the motions, I found myself enjoying it—feeling every note. I began to compose, and over the next few weeks, I started to write songs. It was a way for me to process the things in my heart. I started to regain hope.
That summer, I attended a youth service camp with my church. During the week, they showed us a video about human trafficking, and it hit me hard. These kids were my age, and were being victimized in ways that I couldn’t fathom. That four-minute clip changed my entire outlook on my life. I found myself praising God for all of the blessings that I had taken for granted, including my injuries! I was determined to do something to make a difference in the growing epidemic that is human trafficking.
I am now sixteen years old. It’s been a roller-coaster journey, but I’ve been so blessed with opportunities to speak and perform, sharing my story and raising awareness through the organization that I founded shortly after my change of heart at camp. The company is called Unfailing Ministries—ending child slavery and exploitation one song at a time. My younger sister, Iris, has jumped on board. She has a huge voice and an even bigger heart for change. Together we have released an EP, and I have put out two solo singles. Every penny that is raised benefits victims of human trafficking.
My message is one of trust, hope and perseverance. I wouldn’t be doing anything that I’m doing now if I had continued with gymnastics. Our plans aren’t always God’s plans, and His are always better. He takes weaknesses and makes them witnesses to His grace. My ultimate goal in everything I do is to inspire others to use the gifts they’ve been given to do things that are bigger than themselves. I still have a long way to go. I’m not finished, but I can walk in confidence knowing that the One who created the universe holds my life.
Written by PI Girl Alex-Renee
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