KarleyAnne Curtin was hoping these next couple weeks would be her time to shine.
The Columbus North senior had made the varsity gymnastics team and was trying to work her way into the top four who would compete in the sectional on the floor exercise. So following the Bull Dogs’ first meet Jan. 13, she worked on a skill called an “Arabian” at the end of practice with assistant coach Bob Arthur.
An “Arabian” is where a gymnast comes out of a back handspring, going backward in the air, does a half-twist and a front somersault and lands on her feet.
Except Curtin didn’t land on her feet.
As Arthur was attempting to spot Curtin, she did something no gymnast wants to do. She bailed.
Curtin landed on her neck and shoulders. Her legs came over her shoulders, and her knees smashed her chest. The impact of her knees crushing her and bouncing her off the floor broke the T-10 — and, as was later discovered, the T-6 — vertebrae in her back.
“I was in shock,” Curtin said. “I didn’t know what was wrong. I got the wind knocked out of me, obviously, because I was coming down from a high distance. I don’t remember falling. They stretched out my legs because I was in a ball.”
Trainer Steve Souder checked on Curtin and did some examinations to make sure she was OK. She felt fine, so she got up, walked to her car and began to drive home.
“I called my mom because when I sat down in the car is when I felt something wasn’t right,” Curtin said.
Curtin made it only as far as her grandparents’ house.
“When I got to my grandma’s house, I laid on the floor, and I couldn’t get up,” Curtin said. “I couldn’t move. My legs were tingling. My mom got my uncle and my dad to pick me up and put me in the car, and we drove to Methodist (Hospital in Indianapolis).”
“At first, she knew she was hurt, but no one knew how bad,” said her mother, Lynda Curtin.
Methodist kept KarleyAnne overnight for observation and put her in a back brace the next day. She must still wear the metal brace from her collarbone to hipbone for another two months.
Curtin was in a wheelchair for a week, and then needed assistance walking when stopping to see her teammates at practice after school the following week. At a meet a couple weeks later, she walked while pushing a chair on wheels.
Now, Curtin walks with little trouble, but she still must avoid stairs, bending or twisting and lifting anything over 8 pounds for another two months. Curtin, who plans to major in nursing at Ball State, had to quit her job at Keepsake Village, and doctors told her it would be six months to a year before she could go back to work.
And it will be a year before Curtin can ride rollercoasters or do gymnastics again.
“It’s been hard because it’s really affected her everyday life,” Lynda Curtin said. “I think it’s the most heartbreaking because it’s her senior year, and now she’s limited.”
Lynda, who works for Our Hospice of Southern Indiana, was able to seek advice from her colleagues when KarleyAnne was injured.
“When Karley was hurt and on her back and couldn’t straighten her legs, I called one of our nurses to get a little more insight on what to do,” Lynda said.
Lynda had been through a traumatic situation with her family before. Her son, Kory Noland, a 2010 North graduate, suffered a brain injury in an ATV accident in September of that year and went through two months of rehab at Rehabilitation Hospital of Indianapolis.
“We’ve kind of been through some accidents,” Lynda said. “Once you’ve been through seeing an unresponsive child with a brain bleed, if they’re responsive and talking to you, it’s a lot better.”
Noland, now 22, has recovered and is an electrician for his father at Noland Electric. He had been treated at Goodman Campbell Brain and Spine, which is part of Methodist.
KarleyAnne hasn’t had to have surgery, but it remains a possibility.
“They’re looking it over and making sure it heals OK because they did say that if it doesn’t heal strong enough, they’ll inject cement in the vertebrae,” KarleyAnne said.
KarleyAnne, who wants to become a pediatric oncology nurse or nurse practitioner, was in her second year competing for North’s gymnastics team. She was a junior varsity gymnast last season before making varsity this year.
She now attends the Bull Dogs’ meets, but not their practices. She plans to be there to support her teammates in Friday night’s Columbus East Regional and again March 22 for the State Finals at Ball State — if North makes it that far.
“It’s difficult to sit there and watch because I was a varsity gymnast, and I planned to go to state, at least for floor,” KarleyAnne said. “I try to be supportive, and I come to all the meets that I can because we’re still a team.”