Kids These Days…
Overcoming adversity to prevail in athletics
Emma Armstrong, Jimmy Turner, and Isabelle Seward
Photo by Scott Mullin
For Emma Armstrong, sitting on the sidelines has never been an option. Several years ago, Emma felt extremely tired and had stiff, achy joints. Initially, doctors thought Lyme disease, but months of testing revealed the true diagnosis: Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis or JRA, an auto-immune disease that affects about one in every 1,000 children.
The conservative line of treatment, anti-inflammatory medications, didn’t work. She currently takes two stronger medications, a more aggressive approach, but one that has alleviated a lot of her symptoms. Initially, some activities, like basketball, were off-limits but her mother Lisa says, “I never told her she couldn’t play a sport.”
Emma, 13, kept playing soccer with her doctor’s clearance, “I love the camaraderie of being a part of the team.” She also runs cross-country for Scotts Ridge Middle School and participates in local races. Last December she did the Juvenile Arthritis Jingle Bell Run, placing 35th overall and first in her age group. As a Boys & Girls Club member, she’s had the opportunity to try several sports. Through the club, she has twice won Female Athlete of the Year as well as the Sportsmanship Award.
With high school on the horizon, Emma will continue with soccer and track; and remarkably, add volleyball, a sport that would’ve been impossible a few years ago because of the pain in her hands and wrists. To athletes struggling with illness or injury, Emma advises: “Keep going. It’s worth it in the end.”
Isabelle Seward has been swimming since she was nine, but her journey hasn’t always been smooth sailing. Now 16, she has an injury list that rivals professional athletes’, ranging from broken bones to concussions. Yet time and again, she comes back to the pool because, she says, “I can’t picture myself doing anything else.”
Each injury forced Isabelle to step back from training—for a few weeks to an entire year’s absence. The setbacks have been challenging. “It’s hard to be moved down a group and to see yourself swimming slower than your peers.”
The most debilitating of her injuries were two concussions, one of which happened in the pool. Often called a silent injury, concussions can lead to long-term side effects, including balance and vision problems and headaches. “It was frustrating because people didn’t always understand what I was going through,” says Isabelle.
Coming out of each injury has been difficult but Isabelle remarks, “Being able to see my progress has been rewarding.” This past year, her training and commitment escalated, resulting in some notable achievements. With RAC she moved up to Nationals, the highest level. “At first I was nervous, but it pushed me to be the best and fastest I can be,” she says. She also had her most successful year with the RHS team. In the state LLs, she placed first in the trials and second in the finals in the 100-meter breaststroke.
She plans on swimming through college because it’s important to her to have “the backbone of a team to support me.”
Jimmy Turner, 19, started playing football in elementary school. By high school he was on the varsity team. Unfortunately, during a pre-season practice before his senior year, he completely ruptured his ACL. A frustrating season followed; all he could offer his teammates from the sidelines was encouragement.
Jimmy hadn’t considered playing football beyond high school; he planned to enroll in an ROTC program, and thought he couldn’t do both. His injury sidelined those plans though; he was unable to complete the physical test needed for acceptance. Instead, he chose to play football as a post-grad student. A growing trend, a PG year allows students to spend an extra year of high school at a boarding school.
With the decision made to continue with football, Jimmy focused his attention on rehabilitation. “I didn’t want the last time I was on the field to be the day I was injured.” Rehab was tedious but he learned the importance of not rushing his recovery, “If you want to get back, you have to do the work.”
He enrolled at Sheffield Academy in Massachusetts, known for its football program. Stepping out on the football field for the first time was hard. “You can be ready physically but not mentally.” He had to learn to trust his repaired knee.
While rehab and delaying plans hasn’t been easy, there’s a silver lining. Next fall Jimmy will attend Dickinson College, where he will join ROTC and play football. His injury has given him a greater appreciation for football. “ Every game I realize how lucky I am to be able to continue to play the sport I love.”
Run, Girls, Run
The Ridgefield High School girls track-and-field team
won its first state championship since 1992, edging out Greenwich and
Danbury on June 1.