Because of my orthopaedic care, I can ice skate.
FINDING A NEW NORMAL
FORT BRAGG, NC–“When I was 12, the doctors told my parents my scoliosis was so severe it would put me in a wheelchair by age 16 and dead by age 18 if I didn’t have corrective surgery,” said Liz Egetoe, skating director and head coach at Cleland Ice Rink, Fort Bragg, NC.
Liz Egetoe’s story is a little different than most because she was diagnosed with scoliosis at a young age, her passion for the ice and love of skating kept her strong and motivated her through the long years of healing. For Egetoe, ice skating provided her with a foundation during her hardest childhood years and helped her face the tough decisions she had to make in her life.
When she was young, Egetoe liked to ski. Then, for her seventh birthday her brother gave her a pair of ice skates. That’s when she traded in the snow and developed a taste for the ice. Once she figured out that she could jump on skates the same way she could on skis, she knew she found her passion.
“When you look forward to arriving to a dark ice rink at 5:30 a.m. so you can breathe in the cold, crisp air, and see the fog settled over the ice, and find peacefulness at being greeted by silent stillness – except for the slight hum of the compressor- then you know you’re meant to be there,” Egetoe said with a large smile and a twinkle in her eyes.
Egetoe’s childhood dream of becoming a professional ice skater was short-lived. She was diagnosed with scoliosis by the school nurse at the age of eight. For a few years she stayed true to her calling and continued to skate, learning to compensate for her movements when her body would not bend and twist the way she needed it to do.
When the doctors told her parents about Egetoe’s condition, no one was surprised because their family was no stranger to scoliosis. In fact, most of the women in their family have scoliosis. Unfortunately, a few years after her diagnosis the family was surprised to find out how severe Egetoe’s case had become.
“Scoliosis is a family concern,” explained Margaret Egetoe, Liz’s mother. “Liz’s older sister and I both have scoliosis. Her sister was braced from 2nd grade through high school. Liz’s case was different because it became severe very quickly. From age 8 to 12, her curve went from hardly noticeable to a 70 degree curve at the top of her spine and an 80 degree curve at the lower end of her spine.”
According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, http://orthoinfo.aaos.org, approximately 30 percent of adolescent idiopathic scoliosis patients, idiopathic meaning without cause, have a family history of scoliosis. Currently, there is a lot of research being done to investigate this genetic or hereditary link.
When her coach Matthew “Skip” Mackall, now the Director of Skating at The Ice Zone, LTD, heard the news of her diagnosis and upcoming surgery, he sat Egetoe down for a heart-to-heart talk about her future in skating.
“I basically told her skating in any competition was going to be a thing of the past and her focus should be on coaching and sharing the knowledge she had gained,” Mackall said. “Liz maintained great composure with what must have been devastating news. Following the discussion, we immediately set out to chart a course for her future in skating after her surgery.”
After Egetoe had this discussion with her coach, she admitted to herself that she was too stubborn to let the upcoming surgery and her condition change her life. That day sparked a flame inside her to always push herself to the limits, determined to prove her coach wrong.
The day of the surgery, Egetoe remembers being taken into a room to pick out one of the bears they had at the Shiner’s Hospital in Philadelphia, Pa. She chose a teddy bear wearing a wedding dress and still has it to this day.
The day of the surgery is a distant memory for Egetoe. She spoke of how a nurse gave her a lollipop and told her to rub it on the inside of her cheeks and on her tongue. Egetoe explained how the doctors had to cut pieces from 9 ribs, removed 9 discs and used pieces of her rib to fuse her spine together from the base of her neck to her tailbone. Then the doctors inserted two titanium rods on each side and secured her spine with wires and screws.
The next thing Egetoe remembers is waking, five days later. When she woke she still had the ventilator, so she tried to communicate with her family by writing on a piece of paper.
“My mom said I asked for chicken tenders and steak fries,” said Egetoe. “My family took that as a good sign I was going to be ok.”
On day six, the nurses removed the ventilation tubes. By day seven, Egetoe was learning how to walk with a walker. She remembers being very stiff but by days 9 and 10 she was walking again.
While in the hospital recovering, Egetoe never felt her case was very severe. She was surrounded by children she thought had more serious problems then her scoliosis. For example, she remembers a boy with whom she regularly played video games. He always beat her in the video games which amazed her because the boy didn’t have any arms; he played with his feet.
The procedure took years to recover from and left her with a 15 degree curve at the top of her spine and 23 degree curve at the bottom of her spine. For the next two years, Egetoe spent her time healing and sitting on the sidelines observing the other skaters and learning how to coach. She soaked in the information from her coach like a sponge, learning how to teach and what to expect from the skaters.
After the surgery, Egetoe was determined not to let her condition change her life or her dreams. In reality things were different, very different, but her coach helped her accept it and taught her how to find her “new normal,” and helped her come to peace with her new path in life.
“Liz’s coach, Mackall, was her primary motivator to help her get through those first few years after her surgery. He helped her get over what she could no longer do and concentrate on what she could do,” said Margaret Egetoe. “Really, he was the one who helped her mentally refocus her life, re-evaluate her goals, and establish new goals.”
“When Liz returned to the ice, she stayed with me during training with other skaters to observe and share her insight. Liz was always technical and very driven to be the best she could be. Those years of training Liz were more of a collaboration of minds, she was a great help from the start,” said Mackall.
According to Liz, training to be a coach is different than training as a skater. Learning to coach involves being a bit of a science nerd, understanding how things work and why they work that way. Coaches learn that if you move your arm or leg a certain way, that tiny movement will affect your outcome on a jump or posture for better or worse, explained Egetoe.
Now, Egetoe is a grown woman and started coaching her own students in 1997. She takes her coaching and skating director job seriously.
“Honestly, my skaters are what drive me entirely to be a better coach. I go through my good days and bad days, but on the bad days my skaters are the reason I get out of bed and push myself to be better,” said Egetoe with tear-filled eyes. “They truly have my heart.”
Egetoe is a rated coach with the Professional Skaters Association. She has a registered rating in teach Group Instruction, Free Skate, and Moves in the Field classes. She is a senior rated program director. Liz has earned an accreditation to teach hockey skating for level I and II through the PSA. She also holds a title as a Gold Certified Judge with the Ice Skating Institute.
She is a certified fitness trainer with the International Sports Sciences Association and a level II TRX Force Trainer. She is currently pursuing degrees in Exercise Science and Sports Physiology.
She still continues to strive to be the best at what she does, and attends yearly continuing education seminars and conferences to keep and improve her ratings. She plans to finish her master program director and certified freestyle ratings exams at the PSA conference in May 2014.
In the future, Egetoe has plans to start a program of her own to help other children recover, mentally and physically from spinal deformities. She calls it Back-to-Basics. The program will be dedicated to helping children and athletes find an outlet and a community to lean on for support.
“I want to help kids be kids through games, exercise, and athletic passion,” Egetoe emphasized.
The experiences Egetoe faced growing up taught her how important a coach can be as a role model in a child’s life. She feels there is currently no way for athletes with spinal deformities to learn how to be athletes again, and she wants to provide a program for them.
“I want to help these children find their new normal as my coach did for me,” said Egetoe.
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