Unexpected events may alter the course of one’s life.
They can change perspective.
That doesn’t mean they must prevent a person from realizing their potential.
Stephanie Mueller has made that at times painful journey of self-discovery at a young age.
Two summers ago Mueller, now a senior at Naperville North, was forced to undergo reconstructive surgery on her left hip. Nagging discomfort from a car accident had lingered for three years.
Following surgery, her doctor told Mueller she could still do many things in life. Becoming a professional dancer was not one of them, which was crushing news.
Mueller had taken private dance lessons for 13 years, and “absolutely” saw dance as a career path.
“It completely reset how I looked at myself,” Mueller said. “The surgery put some roadblocks in my way; you have to either go over those speed bumps or find a new path around them. As soon as I walked out of the operation room, I had to figure out a new way.”
Mueller’s new way was throwing herself into three sports at Naperville North.
Six months removed from rehab, Mueller returned to gymnastics. Last spring she won the DuPage Valley Conference high jump – gaining the distinction of being the only girl to ever defeat West Aurora star Emma Spagnola in a conference meet. She made state in both the high jump and pole vault.
She was competing in pain.
In April 2013 – a year ago this week, in fact, Mueller was pole vaulting at a cold outdoor meet. Not warmed up properly, using iffy equipment, Mueller popped her shoulder out of its socket. A club gymnast with a high pain tolerance, Mueller wore a brace and iced the shoulder – but it popped out again her first pole vault at state.
It was revealed to Mueller that she had torn part of the shoulder’s labrum and capsule.
Hurting the shoulder gave Mueller a perspective not necessarily common for a high school senior.
“Before you get hurt you think you are invincible, you are told as a teenager you are Superman,” Mueller said. “Now, as I’ve been through some major things I realize that you have to stop and look at yourself in a new light. You’re not invincible.”
A couple rolls of bad fortune hasn’t thrown away Mueller’s want to compete in sports.
Returning for a couple cross country meets, Mueller was back full bore for gymnastics. She declined to drop one of the sports, calling them therapy. Mueller made the state meet in the floor exercise.
A late arrival for track after gymnastics, Mueller jumped a personal best 5-foot-6 at Glenbard North first time out, then bettered it by going 5-7 for second at the DVC indoor. At the Top Times meet Mueller took fourth in the high jump and sixth in the pole vault.
“We knew she was a tough kid, we knew she’d come back and we wanted to keep her hopes high, but we also wanted to be realistic,” Naperville North coach Joanna Wilson said. “But she’s come out a blazing.”
Mueller hopes to make it back to state again, and has plans to compete in track in college. Long-term she hasn’t found a filler to take the place of competitive dance, but there is time for that.
“You can’t ever replace it. You just have to move on,” Mueller said. “I’m happily surprised to be where I am in the high jump. I don’t see any reason why I can’t push myself higher.”