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Roseville Raiderette returns to dance after head injury, spreads awareness
It’s been a long 18 months on the road to recovery for 16-year-old dancer Michelle Jensen.
The Roseville Area High School junior suffered a severe concussion during gym class in March of 2012 that left the Raiderette Dance Team member wondering if she would ever be able to rejoin the team she’s loved being a part of since middle school.
She finally got that chance during halftime at the RAHS homecoming football game Friday, Sept. 21, where she performed with the team for the first time since her injury.
“I was able to dance for the first time in well over a year and it was the greatest feeling ever,” Michelle said.
Raiderettes Dance Team coach Brittany Rehling said when she got word that Michelle was cleared by doctors to start dancing again this summer, the whole team cheered in excitement.
“Being able to see her back dancing again is incredible,” Rehling said. “Last year was devastating, not seeing her dance.”
Something wasn’t right
Michelle is back dancing with the Raiderettes, but she still has lingering symptoms from her injury, which resulted from a fall in gym class during the spring of Michelle’s freshman year.
Michelle says she doesn’t remember much from that day, March 29, 2012, when her head hit the RAHS gym floor. Michelle collided with a basketball during gym class, which sent her crashing to the ground. She was shaken, but did not go to a doctor or even see the school nurse that day.
It was a couple of days later when she realized she needed medical attention.
“My headaches weren’t going away and lights and sounds hurt even worse,” Michelle recalls.
Her mother, Janet Jensen, said she remembers someone saying that her daughter was acting funny, and she knew something was wrong.
“It’s sort of an invisible injury where you can’t always see the symptoms right away,” Janet explained.
After seeing a doctor, who diagnosed her with a severe concussion and whiplash from her fall, Michelle -- under the doctor’s orders -- stayed home to rest and recover for a week. She was told her many symptoms -- headaches, dizziness, sensitivity to lights and sounds, memory loss, vision perception issues and verbal comprehension problems -- would improve after a week, but they did not. Eighteen months later, Michelle says she still has chronic headaches and is still sensitive to light and sound.
Michelle says despite her lingering symptoms, she feels her condition continues to improve and she has a positive outlook toward her future.
Michelle says the Raiderette Dance Team has rallied around her in support, as has the team’s booster club. The strong backing she has received from them, along with her love of dance and a youth support group called Connections for Concussions (C4C), she says, has helped her heal.
Michelle is a spokesperson for C4C, and has been speaking to classmates in health classes at RAHS to spread awareness about brain injuries.
“She came back to school with a new attitude,” her mom says. “She chose to spread awareness about concussions. It’s not just a bump on the head.”
Michelle says she tells her peers that a head injury is nothing to mess around with, and encourages them to recognize the warning signs of a concussion.
“When in doubt, check it out,” she says.
Michelle also encourages students to be advocates for themselves if they suffer a head injury and to push on and face the challenge.
“I tell them that just because one thing is wrong in your life doesn’t mean your life is over… you can cope. Life is a challenge and you have to overcome that challenge,” Michelle says.
Thankful for support
Michelle says though coping with her injury has been the biggest challenge she has faced in her young life so far, she’s thankful for all the support she has received from her team, the boosters and support groups.
On Saturday, Sept. 7 Michelle, her dance team and members from the team’s booster club participated in the Minnesota Brain Injury Alliance’s “Walk for Thought” at Como Park in St. Paul, which raises money and awareness for people with brain injuries.
The team, clad in purple “Raiderettes Rally for a Cause” t-shirts, raised $150 for the Minnesota Brain Alliance that day. Additionally, the team and boosters raised $300 for C4C -- the first donation the youth group has received from another youth group.
“It’s the best feeling to know that my team is there for me and they all know that,” Michelle says.
The team’s coach said she always tells the girls that their team is like family.
“We wanted to show her that we’re really there for her and we’ll always support each other no matter what,” Rehling said.
One day at a time
The team plans on participating in more volunteer events in the near future. In the meantime, Michelle is focusing her efforts on school, dance and recovery.
She knows it will be a challenge -- she still has daily headaches, and other symptoms from her head injury that can at times be debilitating -- but she plans to stay the course and make improvements every day.
“There’s one saying that I’ve been going by for a couple of years now from “Finding Nemo:” ‘Just keep swimming, just keep swimming,’” Michelle said.
Joshua Nielsen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 651-748-7824.