LEXINGTON — In July, University of Kentucky cheerleader Dylan Smith fell 44 feet and suffered a dislocated hip, fractured pelvis, and laceration to his spleen, and both his lungs collapsed. In January, he was in Orlando with the UK squad when it won the national championship again.
It was a remarkable journey for Smith. He was teaching a gymnastics class in Rhode Island when he lost his balance at the end of a series of moves and landed against a door that had been nailed shut, but suddenly opened into open air. Smith turned a back clip during the fall and somehow managed to land on his feet.
Smith, a sophomore pre-med major from Rhode Island, offered these insights into his recovery and return to the UK¿cheerleading squad:
Question: What have the last few months been like for you and how did you manage to get back to this point so quickly?
Smith: “In all honesty, the past few months have been some of the best in my life. While I experienced a large setback this summer, the event has helped shape who I am as a person and athlete. From the rehab I was doing four days a week back home, to the transitioning back to school on my own, there was a lot of hard work that went into this process. My family, friends, teammates, coaches and other members of the University of Kentucky community helped push and support me during my time recovering both physically and mentally. People in the UK cheer program both past and present were very positive, providing inspiration and motivation for me daily.
“How did I get back to this point so quickly? I had no doubts. I wanted it so badly that I truly believed it wasn’t possible for me not to be healed and participating again. I worked all spring and the beginning of summer with a goal in mind and I was not going to let my accident this summer keep that from becoming a reality. This experience has shown me that by believing in yourself, with hard work and faith all things are possible.”
Question: What did it mean to you to get to be part of the national championship experience again?
Smith: “While this is my second year cheering at UK, this is my first year on the Blue Squad and consequently my first time competing at the UCA College National Championship. Last year UK placed second, and this year I was proud to have contributed to the program’s 19th national championship. The amount of work we as team have put into achieving this goal is unlike something I have ever experienced before. Hours a day in the gym, multiple practices, it became almost second nature performing our routine. Having that mindset that winning was the only option.
“Last year as a freshman, my goal was to work harder than ever to earn a spot on the national’s squad the upcoming year. After doing all of that and having my accident, I was disappointed most by the thought of not having the opportunity to compete for a national title with my teammates. With motivation from my team and family, I quickly turned that thought process around and used this as more fuel to get healthy. Being selected by my coaches and teammates to compete this year was reassurance that the program recognized my passion, and hard work I had put forth. Winning a national championship this year has been the greatest experience of my life. Stepping off the competition mat crowned the best, but also the journey I had in getting there is something I will never forget.”
Question: How did the UK cheerleaders/coaches support you during your injury/rehab?
Smith: “During the summer after my accident, most of my teammates and coaches were spread out all over the country. I had actually just returned home on July 3rd from a week long practice session we had at school. The accident happened on July 7th, and I was planning on going back to UK two days later to join some teammates on a trip to Singapore for a cheerleading camp. The word spread via Facebook, Twitter, etc, informing my teammates of what had happened. The outpouring of support and prayers I received by phone, e-mails, and Facebook was overwhelming. I had never realized how many people really cared about my well being. During the five days at the hospital and even after I returned home, I received cards, letters, and things to keep me occupied during my recovery time. This was the hardest part of this entire experience.
“I left the hospital on July 12th, and would not start physical therapy until Aug. 1sr. I was on bed rest for nearly two and a half weeks, not able to sit up or walk on my own yet. Coaches and other team members met in Lexington for more summer practices, and then in August for UCA College Cheer Camp in Milwaukee, Wis. I was not able to physically attend, but my team sent me updates, pictures and always made me feel like I was still with them. This pushed me to work harder in rehab, not feel bad for myself and encouraged me to get back to school and join my team as soon as possible. Without the UK cheer team support, I do not believe I would have made the same recovery both physically and mentally.”
Question: Was there a time you wondered if you would ever be back part of UK cheerleading again?
Smith: “When I was in the hospital and had learned of the severity of my accident, I was not really sure what to think. I wasn’t sure if my life would ever return to what I knew as normalcy. However, after talking to my head coach Jomo Thompson, and numerous teammates ... It was without doubt I knew this was just a bump in the road and I would be back soon. I looked this as a test, one from God, challenging me to be at my personal best in all areas of life, for my sake and for those around me. With this new perspective and drive I knew that all was possible for those who work hard, believe, and have faith.
“All three of those attributes allowed me to rejoin the UK cheer team, my extended family. Did it happen overnight? No, this was a process with many checkpoints along the way. I was told I did not have to return to school this fall, yet that was my first goal ... to be healthy enough to fly on my own, set up my apartment and attend classes like a regular student. Secondly, after I accomplished the first part I then wanted to be cleared to physically participate in cheerleading practices and workouts. Following that step, I set the goal to earn back my spot and be at the level to cheer with the Kentucky cheerleading blue squad ... the 19-time national champions. Every time I set a goal, I would push it a little further and challenge myself more and more. Doctors, therapists, and others said I wouldn't start physical activity for at least the spring or summer, everyone had their own opinion. For me that was unacceptable, I was determined to set my own goals and limitations. For me that was unacceptable, I was determined to set my own goals and limitations. This was my body, my life, I knew how much I could push myself and what I'm capable of.
“Finally, my last goal was to make the Kentucky nationals team via selection from the coaches and team members. Once selected to go on and win the 2012 College National Championship in January. Every one of these goals on my checklist became a reality in seven months from not being able to get out of bed, tie my shoes or bathe myself. Setting smaller goals and achieving them gave me more confidence going forward in this process, and eventually reaching it.