By Lily Rogers, CTFD dancer-client and Caroline H. Newhouse Scholarship recipient
Until recently I identified myself only as a professional ballet dancer. Although I loved being a dancer, part of me wondered if there were other ways I could contribute to the world. As the scope of my interests and passions started seeping beyond the spotlights, and as my hip injury became more serious, I finally understood that I was far more multidimensional than I had believed. I was diagnosed with osteoarthritis in my right hip in 2008, and for many years I tried to avoid surgery by using palliative treatments and injections, but eventually I underwent surgery in 2010. After a number of failed attempts to return to work, I knew it was time to stop dancing. This decision was both painful and liberating.
Injury is nothing new for dancers, and the relationship a dancer has with their injury is different for each individual, but my injury has everything to do with the future it showed me. This is the story of how I transformed my arthritis into another professional interest; a story that describes how I designed a path to achieve newly defined goals.
I remember the exact moment I realized I wanted to pursue medicine. I was sitting in a cavernous ballroom in the Marriott Hotel in downtown San Francisco in early 2011, listening to some of the world’s best doctors discuss labral repairs. Throughout the afternoon, I was enthralled. I wanted to tell everyone about what I had just heard, I had a million questions, and, above all, I felt hungry for more information. In that moment, I realized there just might be a place in medicine for someone like me, for someone with my background and my perspective.
In the months that followed, I began actively seeking out medical opportunities and clinical experience. I boosted my math skills, spearheaded a human anatomy independent study program at St. Mary’s College LEAP program, and began volunteering at a free clinic. Additionally, to show colleges I was serious about this transition, I finally took the SAT. I have already invested a great deal of money, time, and passion into this change, and I know making it this far is an achievement I never dreamed possible until recently. Starting at Columbia’s School of General Studies in the fall means that I will have the opportunity to start taking the courses that will lead me towards medical school.
Although my arthritis is too severe to ever perform again, I will always identify with dance. Additionally, because I believe so deeply in the art form, I wish to one day be a resource for dancers managing injuries of their own. I hope to pursue orthopedics as well as volunteer my time with in-house clinics for dance companies. As medicine advances, specifically within orthopedics, treatments will continue to become less-invasive. Given this trajectory, and given that regenerative treatments–like cartilage replacement–are almost here, I think there will be a real way for dancers to maintain longer, healthier careers. My goals are lofty, but so is trying to become a professional ballerina. With strength and determination I have already achieved one dream, I am ready to achieve another It was a joy bringing art to life for over 19 years, but I’m ready to help others fly.