Dawna Gay will never forget that day in May, when her phone rang.
On the line was her daughter’s cheerleading coach. Macy Gay had just injured her knee in tumbling class, and it looked much worse than a simple sprain.
“I had heard of girls tearing their (anterior cruciate ligament) but never really had experience with it,” Dawna says. “When (Macy) wouldn’t walk on it, I knew something was wrong.
“I didn’t really believe it,” she says. “I didn’t think she could get hurt.”
And, just like that, Macy’s world flipped as quickly as she once did in a stunt routine.
Macy didn’t simply tear her ACL she disintegrated it completely — and just months before her senior year as a Strawberry Crest cheerleader.
Today, Macy is rehabbing her surgically repaired knee, which contains the ACL of another 17-year-old athlete who had died. She’s already made it back to the Chargers sidelines, and she could even be cleared to tumble again as early as next month.
Macy is the kind of person who always has to be doing something.
“I’m in TV Production, Yearbook, National Honor Society, Best Buddies, Crimson Crew …” she says. “There’s (also) this Bling Club … it’s about rhinestones and stuff … it’s new.”
According to her mom, Macy also is a member of the American Sign Language Honor Society, as well as FFA. She has shown steer at the Florida Strawberry Festival since the seventh grade and will show her steer “Momo” next year.
“We joke that he thinks he’s a dog and not a thousand-pound steer,” Dawna says.
But, as involved as Macy is with so many programs, she found her true passion, when she started cheering in the seventh grade.
“I was a dancer from first grade through sixth grade,” Macy says. “And in the last year of dance, I kept telling my mom, ‘I don’t want to dance anymore; I want to be a cheerleader.’ And my mom was, like, ‘No, no, no — be a dancer.’”
At the time, Macy’s older sister, Tana, also wanted to be a cheerleader. So, at tryouts, Dawna made Macy a deal: If Tana made the Strawberry Crest cheerleading squad, then Macy could try out, too.
“(Cheering) was the greatest decision I think I’ve ever made so far,” Macy says. “I feel like it’s taught me more life lessons than anything.”
In addition to cheering for the Chargers, Macy also competes for the Brandon All-Stars. With her senior year nearing the halfway mark, she dreams of cheering in college.
But, in any sport, sometimes things go unexpectedly wrong, and it can seem like the sport has had enough of you.
Turn on any sports news channel, and it’s almost a certainty that there will be an injury report. More often than not, some athlete tore his or her ACL.
It’s a trend that seems to be happening more often now than it did even five years ago, even claiming full seasons from superstars such as Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson and Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose. Some athletes never recover from the injury.
Macy says she knew something was wrong the second she landed.
“I had just gotten my ‘full,’” she remembers. “I did it three or four times into a foam pit and nine or 10 times on the floor. My coach said, ‘One more time,’ and I set up higher than usual. My body kept trying to spin, so I landed wrong on my knee.”
There was an audible “pop,” when the ligament completely detached from the bone, and then came the powerful burning sensation. Dawna arrived on the scene, and then Macy was shuttled to the emergency room. The X-ray came back negative; but the MRI, taken later at Florida Orthopedic, confirmed the problem: The ligament not only was detached but also destroyed.
MUST HAVE BEEN A CHEERLEADER
There are two ways to fix this problem. One involves surgically removing part of the ligament in one leg and transplanting it into the other, which isn’t recommended for an athlete. The other involves getting a complete ACL replacement, courtesy of a donor, but that comes with a lot of uncertainty. The Gays decided to go with the latter option.
The identity of the donor? A mystery to everyone. But, it’s staying that way for a reason: It was the ACL of a deceased girl.
“She was a 17-year-old athlete,” Dawna says. “The doctor didn’t know he had this extra ACL until a few days before the surgery. The doctor told us he had the perfect donor for her, and he knew it would be the perfect fit for Macy. But, I teared up. You don’t realize until you hear those words that a family lost their child.”
Macy received her new ACL May 22. Since then, Macy has cruised through her rehab and could be cleared to tumble in just a few weeks. All-Stars competition begins in December, and she plans to be ready.
Perhaps part of the reason Macy has rebounded so quickly is her passion for cheerleading and her competitive nature. Dawna also says her daughter has maintained a positive attitude throughout the process, and she’s had the complete support of her coaches.
And although they never will know the identity of the donor, Macy suspects the two may share much in common.
“Macy said to me one day, after her physical therapy appointment, ‘Mom, I feel like my donor was a cheerleader, because I’m doing so well in recovery.’”
Contact Justin Kline at email@example.com.