Defying Death to Dance – A Paralyzed Zumba Instructor Makes a Comeback

One Zumba Instructor’s Fight Past Paralysis and Chronic Pain to Dance

When I first realized I would need to learn to walk again, I felt a kind of numbing acceptance.Rat - lungworm Hurricane Rita


I’ll learn to walk again, because I don’t want to stop my love of movement quite yet.

I would have laughed at you if you had told me when I was 18 that 11 1/2 years later I’d be in a wheelchair in a diaper from eating a slug on a reality TV show in Fiji. I would have scrunched my face at the sound of “rat lungworm” and brushed it off.

The pain was insanely unforgiving, but I fought through it moment by moment to wiggle my toes and flex my ankles this way and that every single day with tears streaming steadily from my eyes. I tried to quit, but I simply couldn’t, and even if I could, John simply wouldn’t let me. Eventually I moved to the nursing home Community Living Center, where I was the youngest resident.

29 in a diaper. My lover was given a bed in my room, and together John and my physical therapist taught me the basic beginnings of learning movement, from flexing my feet, to calf raises, standing, walking, flexibility, and balance all over again.

There were moments (A LOT of them) where I sobbed and wondered why.

Why, when I run a website named tomorrow’s not guaranteed telling the world not to take for granted the simple blessings of life, was it necessary for me to lose mobility; the foundation for so many of my passions?

I knew how much I loved it.

“I UNDERSTOOD!” I’d sob.


But moments are what they are… Moments.

Even if they are sad and angry, they still pass.

After they’d pass, with the strength of this world’s most amazing man by my side, I’d get back to the grind.rat lungworm recovery physical therapy

Flex this way, flex that way. A tear shed here, a sob there.

I chose to be released from the hospital on December 19th, (my dirty 30 birthday), with what may as well have been a medium-sized trash bag full of medicine to last me the month until I’d be able to refill.  The pain of damaged nerves, atrophied muscles, a colon and bladder that had shut down was absolutely mind blowing…I’d just begun to leave my wheelchair behind all day 2 days prior to leaving. I was exhausted by simply Franken-walking to the elevators and getting to the dining room a floor down 3 times a day using my walker, but I was determined to leave the chair behind when moving to the next phase.

rat lungworm

By December 19th, I’d proven to my physical therapist that with enough focus and drive, after 3 sessions a day for a month, I could pull myself awkwardly up a flight of stairs, and with even more effort, put on a pair of socks if given about five minutes for the process.  I couldn’t sit on my heels, nor get up from the ground without groaning, sighing, and nearly crying, but I decided it was time to try to function outside of the hospital.

I joined Paramount Fitness on the 11th of January on a mission to learn to stand solidly, walk without a limp, jump, dance, and of course, RUN AGAIN.  The first Zumba class I tried, I made it through two songs (the warm-up and the faster warm-up), then, humbled by my inability to keep up, I retreated to the stretching room.

I came back to class the next day and fell…several times. I made it through three songs before I needed to hobble slowly back to my handicap parking spot.

That was January.

February and March were full of the same…Hard work, yoga, balance practice, and dedication to movement.

I worked, screamed, laughed, sobbed, played, and celebrated. I danced.

I fell, slipped, chuckled, and stood out like a pink haired off balanced sore thumb, but I danced.

April second I taught my first scheduled post-parasite Zumba class at Paramount Fitness in Annville, Pennsylvania!  3 1/2 months after not being able to stand more than a quarter of a class, 5 months after I barely escaped death and the neurologist stated clearly that he was concerned about permanent paralysis. Just…5 months later, I shimmied, jumped, and squatted my way through an entire class!!!!!

Hurricane Rita Zumba

The energy was nearly palpable. There was NO way you could even try to slap the smile off my face! I mean, really…I defied reality several times that day from the moment I OPENED MY EYES that morning and BREATHED deeply as I FELT the sun rays warm my skin to the moment I SAT DOWN and BROUGHT MY KNEES TO MY CHEST to  PUT MY SHOES ON then WALKED out of the front door to DRIVE to class to DANCE!!!!!

How could anything go wrong when every single breath is simply a miracle?

I told the short version of my story at the beginning of the class, right before I said, “So if you have any reason to complain that class is too hard, or whatever….you’re NOT allowed to complain to me.”

I joke of course.

…kind of.

Live, laugh, love, DANCE!

Life is a gift. Appreciate it as such, because let me tell you a lesson that I’ve learned soooooooo many times at this point.

Tomorrow is NOT guaranteed.

Read the story (the blog version) of a Hurricane’s struggle to live past rat lungworm here: Part I, Part II, Part III

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12 Responses to Defying Death to Dance – A Paralyzed Zumba Instructor Makes a Comeback

  1. gotmorgyn April 3, 2013 at 4:15 PM #

    You are an inspiration as always, Hurricane Rita. I dream to meet you – I feel like I know you. Keep on keepin’ on, and writing about it. If I am ever fortunate enough to become a book editor, it would make me incredibly proud to be able to publish your book of trials and…just life, raw and uncut. Thank you for being an inspiration. As you know, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer in September. She passed away on March 10, and I am constantly channeling your energy to remember that life is not guaranteed, and to keep fighting the good fight. A friend and fan forever, Morgyn

    • Hurricane Rita April 5, 2013 at 5:07 PM #

      Thank you for your kind words, Morgyn! If you so choose to become an editor, please let me know!!! I’m so very sorry for your loss. The good fight is definitely the one on which to focus. I’m proud of your energy. Your light shines through your words. Keep smiling, and make eye contact every chance possible. It builds love. Sending love and light, Hurricane. <3

  2. Susan Schlatter April 4, 2013 at 1:21 AM #

    HIPS, HIPS HOORAY!!!!!!!! Congrats girl, although we KNEW you would come dancin back, you’re just not one to give up, we are so incredibly proud of you and what you’ve overcome. Your tears have been shared and now so has your joy!!!!!!!
    The mountain cabin awaits!!!!!!! WHen, when, when?????????
    Love you girl,
    Susan and Bud

    • Hurricane Rita April 5, 2013 at 5:09 PM #

      I SWEAR we will be at the cabin soon! There are logistics to attend to at the moment…like breaking ground for our garden, then….keeping it kept up. 😀 My mom is heading to Maui in early May, so we were thinking we may end up visiting the week before or the week after she returns. That way the plants still get some love while we are gone. 😀 Doggies are welcome? 😀

  3. JillElizzabeth April 4, 2013 at 1:24 AM #

    You are a ROCKSTAR! 🙂 Things happen for a reason. It’s what you do with them that makes the difference. Keep smiling! 🙂

    • Hurricane Rita April 5, 2013 at 5:10 PM #

      🙂 Well, thank you! I’m not sure my sis would agree that I’m a rock star…. she hates my singing. 😀 Smiling is not a habit…it’s a way of life. 😀

  4. Dr.B May 5, 2013 at 12:01 AM #

    We at the CLC at the Phoenix VA have been following the progression of your recovery and are all very pleased that you’ve come as far as you have…not that we ever doubted your ability to do so. You are very clearly an amazing person, living an amazing Life with the support of a very loving individual (I am of course referring to Corky).
    Sorry John :). I remember seeing you as you and Rita arrived at the CLC. It was clear that you had both been throu a lot and that you were very concerned. But my first thought was that I hadn’t realized that a functional time machine was operational yet…you could have just stepped out of the mid 1960’s with the white guy Afro, jeans and sandals…Far Out Man!

    We look forward to more of the ongoing Rita and John story, success and happiness to you both.

    Say when is John going to imbed some of his gabapentin conversations?

    Dr. B


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