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Dancer back on stage after injury

Caitlin Gauweiler, 23, spent her life as a dancer, but after developing a knee injury she was forced to end her career. Now recovering from a successful surgery, Gauweiler plans to begin training herself to dance again. Photo by Tiffany McEwen.

By Tiffany McEwen

Her gait is confident and smooth, one foot gliding dauntlessly in front of the other as she navigates the small living room to take a seat.

Looking at her, you would never guess that Caitlin Gauweiler, a dancer for 20 years, is recovering from surgery for a knee injury, one that left her unable to dance, bringing her world crashing  down around her.

Gauweiler began dancing at the age of three, and it was all she ever dreamed of doing. At seven, she went to Fleetwood School of Dance in 1995, moving to Collingwood, and then on to the Quinte Ballet School in 2001. In 2009, she packed up her life and went to the School of Dance Ottawa for modern contemporary dance.

“Dance was my entire life. I never did sports, I never did any other activities. It’s not like for other people, that if they couldn’t dance anymore, big deal, that sucks but I’ve still got my band, or soccer.”

“That was everything. That was college, that was my free time, that was my dream, that was my life, everything.”

Tragically, a week after she began classes, the pain started.

“I had an awesome first week. Exhausting, but awesome. Then, the next Monday, about mid-afternoon my knee started bothering me. I figured it was just a dance pain, so I ignored it. It didn’t go away, so I wrapped it for afternoon classes…”

“I figured I could rest it that night, and be fine the next day. By the end of the week, I could barely walk.”

Gauweiler shuffles slightly as she explains, pulling out a small case containing her make-up.

As she pulls out an eyeshadow palette, she looks in my direction with a sad smile.

“That first week I went and saw our physiotherapist. She was a sports therapist. She gave me exercises, showed me how to wrap it, she did acupuncture.”

Pamela Place is the physiotherapist for the School of Dance Ottawa.

Soft laughter bubbles over her lips as she recalls, “We always used to joke because she’s blond, but she’s the tiniest, skinniest person you’ve ever seen, like total ballerina. And we always used to joke because she’s the opposite of Pam Anderson.”

When Place’s solutions provided no relief, Gauweiler went to see Doctor Taryn Taylor, from Carleton University Sports Medicine. She gave her more exercises, sent her for X-rays and eventually an MRI, which showed that she was suffering from patellar subluxation, a condition in which the patella tendon is angled, causing grinding in the kneecap.

“We had a show in November, then a show in December. When they took me out of some of those pieces, that’s when it hit me, how bad it was. And then I was horribly depressed,” she says sadly, pulling her legs under herself.

There were few options left, cortisone injections, which could prove more dangerous to her joints than helpful, or surgery.

“I wanted to try everything else first, because I didn’t want to do surgery and have to take the time off.”

In the end, surgery was the only option.

In January of 2010, Gauweiler met with orthopedic surgeon Doctor Andrew Marshall to discuss surgery.

Taking a deep, steadying breath, Gauweiler explains, “ He said, 100 per cent, you will be able to be a normal person after this, you won’t have to be limping on a regular basis, but I can’t guarantee anything about dancing.”

She stayed at the School of Dance until March, completing only the academic classes, unable to manage the physical classes.

In late March, she dropped from the school completely, and one year later, on March 18, 2011 the surgery was performed, and declared a success.

After the surgery, Gauweiler was quick to make a recovery.

“I was on crutches and in bed for a week, by the middle or end of the second week, I was walking on my own, with just a little bit of a limp…  He called me his poster child, because at three weeks I was where most people would be at six weeks to two months.”

Gauweiler drops the eye shadow palette to her lap with a soft sigh.

“I doubt I’m going to have a career in dance anymore. I’m just past the age. If I went back to school there again, it would be another three years. So even if I went back this fall, like right now, I would still be 26 by the time I finish.”

She looks me straight in the eye, an air of both resignation, and hopefulness showing in her dark brown eyes.

“I would like to go back and just do some classes every once in a while. Keep in shape.”