Written by Annemarie Levakis
Suffering from an injury is without a doubt discouraging. As aerialists, we are more prone to injury because we use our bodies in various ways. Although it may seem like a setback when an injury does occur, the healing process gives you the opportunity to come back stronger and fiercer than ever. Throughout my time training aerial, I have met aerialists who have dealt with an injury and have taken steps to getting back into their training. They did not let the healing process discourage them, instead they let it fuel them. Two incredible women share their stories on healing from an injury and give advice on how it can be prevented. I want aerialists everywhere to read this and be reminded that healing is not a setback. Although the process is frustrating, we all have the ability to bounce back.
Natalia is an aerial performer and a yoga instructor at various studios. She has had to heal and come back to her movement training a number of times. She does many advanced tricks on both pole and aerial hoop and at times modifies the moves because of her past injuries. What I love the most about Natalia is her willingness to never give up while also inspiring those around her to carry the same fearless attitude.
"I’m 25 years old and I have the knees and shoulders of and 80 year old. When I was in high school I suffered a major injury during cheerleading practice; I tore my ACL, meniscus, and broke off part of my knee cap. I also learned within the past few years that I was born with glenoid dysplasia; If you don’t know what that is, neither did I, until my doctors explained that it is a very rare condition where the ball and socket in my shoulder don’t fit properly together.
You may be surprised to hear that I am grateful for these injuries. They taught me that I am, in fact, not invincible and if I want to be a great athlete I cannot take my body for granted. I need to be focused on the things that matter: proper form, warm up, cool down, nutrition, cross training, and asking for professional help.
Being injured changed my goals, primarily longevity. I will not tell you what your pole and aerial goals should be, but let me tell you being injured SUCKS. It would serve your journey better to limit or change your daily workout to not over strain your muscles; than to push past your limits one day and be set back months. Incorporate less athletic training into your daily workout. Put more time into warm ups and cool downs, foam roll, ice and heat, and educate yourself on the issues you’re having or keeping yourself injury free. At Pole-Con this year I took ACRO PT’s workshop on shoulder health and it was so informative that I think it helped me more than any trick or choreography based workshop would have. If your body is strong and healthy, everything else will come; maybe slower than you would like but in the end your body will be able to do more incredible things.
What I love about pole and aerial is that it is MY journey on MY time. I choose when, where, and what to do for my workout. I built my routine myself, and I’m so proud of that. Remember, progress is not just measured in what you post on the gram. Progress, especially after an injury, is learning, growing, and adapting.”
I met Karen a few years ago at my aerial studio and have always admired her amazing talent in the aerial arts, her determination, and her willingness to help each and every student who walks through the door no matter their skillset. I owe much of my training and love for the aerial arts to her. Her classes have always been a safe place to learn and stumble through new challenging tricks. Knowing I can always attempt and fail in her class without judgment is what I love about her classes the most. A little over a year ago, Karen tore her ACL, which as a result has temporarily put her aerial training and teaching on hold. What I greatly admire about her is that although the circumstances are hard, she still gets herself to the studio as often as she can and is taking the time to relearn the basics. It is so humbling and inspiring to see someone who has been through such a traumatic experience continue to work through their struggles in order to continue to do what they are most passionate about.
“I was teaching a very special class called Circus Circuit. Unfortunately while demonstrating a move that I have done a gazillion times, I tore my ACL. After a few days of my knee continuously being swollen, I followed up with my orthopedist. I got an MRI, which confirmed that I needed surgery and one full year of physical therapy. Unfortunately, within a week after being in the hospital, my leg became severely infected. I was in excruciating pain and was rushed to the emergency room to have a second surgery. This was a Friday night. Sunday morning I had surgery number three. I was then admitted into the hospital and they could not identify the infection. Eventually they finally found the type of infection. The reason it took so long was because I had not one but two infections. I was out of work for six months and had to learn to walk again. I would not take phone calls, text messages, go on social media, or take visitors. I just sat and cried for months on end because I was not able to do what I loved. The surgery and recovery was horrific. My incredible pole family would try to reach me with kind wishes and words, but I couldn’t deal with it. Physical therapy was the most painful thing I have ever gone through because of the infection.
Throughout that time, I was finally able to walk and eventually get cleared to go back to my regular day job. I had lost all and I mean all of my upper body strength. I had no muscle mass. Everything that was muscle turned to loose skin. I was gaining a lot of weight from inactivity and very limited movement. It has been almost a year and a half. I tried to get back to my studio to train and condition at least once or twice a week but it has been frustrating. This has been probably been one of the darkest times of my life.
Two pieces of advice I will give to anyone healing from an injury are One: Never let anything get in the way of your passion and Two: do not over do it! Injuries happen all of the time. Being an aerialist is a life-style and you must train safely. If you are doing something on any apparatus, use a crash mat! Make sure you are warmed up properly. Now for the record, I was doing all of this when my injury happened, but what it did to me emotionally, mentally, and physically I would not wish on anyone else. I am slowly getting out of my depression. I do my best to get to the studio keep the faith. I know that I will be back in full force. My goal is to be instructing again by the end of the year. I will have the strength to do what it takes and of course, do it safely. I will never give up on my journey!”
Injuries happen and when they do, a healing process is inevitable. It is always important to remember that healing is not counterproductive although it may feel like it is at times. For those who are reading this that are currently healing from an injury, please do not give up. I am grateful for the advice and stories that these fierce women have shared with me for this blog and feel that they will be helpful to those who read it. It is also important to become aware of our bodies and recognize when we need rest, that way we can prevent injury. As aerialists, we never like hearing the word rest, but what looks like it could be taking steps backwards will actually help us move forward in our training. Many days we may feel that we want to conquer the world, but often forget how important it is to rest. Instead of burning ourselves out, we must listen to our bodies, always thoroughly stretch, and never skip rest days!
Annemarie Levakis is a vocalist, actress, and aerial artist based out of Long Island, New York. She began journey as an aerialist over three years ago and continues to train daily and perform in showcases whenever she is given the opportunity. Check her out on social media!