Leathers takes life-changing injury, transforms it into personal growth (Part I)


Quyenh Phang

Coppell High School senior Taylor Leathers suffered a major back injury during freshman year which has prevented her from continuing her passion of dance. Nonetheless, she has used her experiences as a positive influence in her life.

Anthony Cesario, Co-Student Life Editor

Editor’s note: This story is a part of The Sidekick series on overexertion.


Coppell High School senior Taylor Leathers had been dancing since she was 3. It gave her a unique platform to express her emotions.


Everything changed in freshman year of high school.


“I was 15 at the time,” Leathers said. “That’s when my initial injury occurred, that’s when my disc herniated. It was right before line camp for freshman drill team.”


The doctors told Leathers and her mother, Jan Leathers, that Taylor’s injury was a mix of two things, the first being how active she was. She had exerted so much effort into physical activity, including dancing, basketball, volleyball, wakeboarding and snow skiing that her back became strained over time. The second cause was simply genetics: the ligaments in Taylor’s discs were naturally thin, making her more susceptible to a herniation.


“I was kind of scared because I didn’t really know what it was,” Leathers said. “Just talking with the doctors, we thought it was going to be a spinal fracture which would mean an eight month recovery and a brace, and after that I’d be OK. I was bummed [because] I knew I wouldn’t be able to dance for a while. But I don’t think I knew the gravity of the situation until later on.”


Ironically, the doctors hoped Taylor’s injury was a disc herniation, because for high schoolers, it will usually go away on its own or is not extremely severe. A spinal fracture would have a longer recovery time.


Things were not so easy.


“Because of genetics, and because I kept dancing on it freshman year, [my back] just got worse and worse,” Taylor said. “It was definitely a lot worse than I expected it to be. We never even discussed surgery as an option, but then I ended up having to have surgery eight months later.”


Many factors led to the decision of surgery: Leathers dealt with back spasms every week that left her in excruciating pain, leaving her nearly paralyzed for half an hour. The SAT and ACT, which many students would already consider painful, were especially taxing to Taylor’s back. Studying for school was also difficult for Taylor because she could not stay sitting or standing for more than about 10 minutes at a time.


“It was heartbreaking,” Mrs. Leathers said. “As a mom, it was surreal. It was the worst pain you ever feel because as a parent. I knew she was in physical pain, but watching a child in that pain is horrific. It’s one of the worst things I’ve ever been through.”


Taylor’s first back surgery was at the end of freshman year. Afterwards, she tried to dance again, but her back was so bad, she stopped after mid-sophomore year. Three months ago, she had her second surgery, for disc replacement, and was recently cleared to do all physical activity.


Now that she has been cleared, Taylor can again participate in some other physical activities, such as wakeboarding and snow skiing. However, the metal in her back has forced her to acknowledge that dancing will likely no longer be an option for her.


“I’m glad that I’m able to work again and go to the gym, but it was especially hard for me to deal with the fact that after dancing since age 3, the last time I would dance would be sophomore year in high school,” Leathers said. “That is kind of hard, especially because I love dance, and I also love spending time with my friends. I made all my best friends freshman year on drill team. I met so many great people and danced with great people all throughout my life, and that I won’t be able to do that again.”


Photo courtesy Jan Leathers
Coppell High School senior Taylor Leathers suffered a major back injury during freshman year which has prevented her from continuing her passion of dance. Nonetheless, she has used her experiences as a positive influence in her life.


One of Taylor’s closest friends, CHS senior Stephanie Wendt, has stood by Taylor since she found out about her injury in freshman year when they both danced in the Silver Stars drill team together.


“I have friends that have been injured,” Wendt said. “Being a friend and not quite understanding what they’re going through but trying to support them, it can be hard to do because you can’t really put yourself into their shoes. All you can do is be there for them. One of the things I strive to do as a dancer is dance for those who can’t, and Taylor is a perfect example of that. Taylor showed me and the rest of our drill team really that we need to be grateful and not take our health for granted because Taylor would love to be doing what we’re doing but at the same time, I think she’s a really incredible example of perseverance. I think this whole experience has made her stronger overall. She’s able to handle life’s challenges and look at them in a different way.”


Despite the injury preventing her from pursuing something she loves, Taylor has taken it and transformed it to a positive influence and carved out a new path for her future.


“Because of my injury, I actually got interested in medicine and healthcare,” Taylor said. “I wanted to be able to help those in chronic pain like I was, and I just got really interested in the science of it all with my back. I definitely want to pursue neuroscience and psychology, especially because my injury didn’t only impact me physically, it impacted me emotionally too and I want to be able to study that and take that into a career.”


Because of her newfound interest in the science of her back and her desire to help others, Taylor took an internship with her pediatrician last semester. Now, she has an internship with Peak Brain, a company that aims to help people psychologically using neurological science.


“I learned how to deal with losing something you love and being able to find something not necessarily to replace that, but to take those skills from your old passion and move them to your new passion,” Leathers said. “I know that because I’ve been through this, if something comes along in my life that changes the course, I know I’ll be able to handle it and deal with it and not complain about it but use it to my advantage.”


Taylor was recently accepted into the University of Georgia and UCLA but has not decided between the two yet.


“The measure of any person in any walk of life is not how they handle joyful moments and the good things in life, but how they handle adversity,” Mrs. Leathers said. “I can tell you Taylor can handle adversity better than anyone I know. She had a choice: she could either let it defeat her, or she could let it make her a better person, and she’s definitely a better person with a more mature outlook on life.”

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