"How did you get into hooping?"
I always loved to dance. Ballet, modern, ballroom, flamenco, hip hop, even Pilates was a dance class for me. So, when they told me that I would never walk again, I just said "No." I suffered complete paralysis of my left leg and foot after a horrific accident when I was in college. The doctors removed a disk in my lower back after the vertebrae surrounding it were crushed, forcing the disk into my spinal cord and paralyzing me. After 6 weeks in the hospital and 5 back surgeries, they told me to prepare myself to never walk again.
I dropped out of college at the University of Oklahoma, did hours of physical therapy every day for months, and lived like a helpless infant under the meticulous care of my mother, who sacrificed everything for my recovery. Slowly, feeling and muscle tone started to return to my toes and calves and quads and hamstrings. I had worked hard, so I went back to school. I gained a lot of weight being immobile and didn't have the best way of dealing with what I'd been through. I was glad to be alive and walking, but miserable in my body and forcing myself to eat an extremely restrictive diet and run on a treadmill to regain the body and the life I'd lost that day. But, It didn't work. I hated myself and my body and who I'd become- a broken person.
Until someone handed me a hoop.
I was visiting friends in Austin, TX and was introduced to Henna Kim, a beautiful soul who handed me a very large hoop and dared me to try it, even after I repeatedly told her that I could never hoop as a child. Sure enough, I could do it!! She showed us some tricks and her beautiful hoops, and I've never been the same. I went home to Norman, OK and couldn't find any adult hoops around, so she graciously gave me instructions on how to make them. I started making hoops for myself, and then my friends wanted them! I found meditation in the circle. It was a place where my anxiety and depression couldn't touch me. It forced me out of my comfort zone and made my body move in ways I hadn't moved since before the accident, or really...ever. I felt whole again. I would put on my favorite music, go in my back yard, and just hoop. Just letting go of everything and spinning around on the earth was so healing.
I didn't know what I was doing, but it didn't matter. I was dancing again.
The endorphins from movement and expression pulled me out of my depression and helped me find myself again. A nice side effect was that I started to lose the weight. The lower back pain subsided when I let my big, heavy hoops pull my stiff hips around. My core strength increased, meaning more protection for my lower back. I practiced tricks I saw in videos and watched tutorials and had these joyous moments of landing tricks and moves for the first time over and over and over again.
I am not broken.
I did still feel alone and embarrassed even to talk about how I've started a hula hooping obsession at 23. Someone invited me to a park in Norman, where people hang out and juggle, hula hoop, and unicycle. I timidly gathered my hand-made hoops and headed to the park where I met some really awesome people. The leader of the group is now my fiance, Jeremy Philo. We started performing together and the rest is history. He has always encouraged me to teach classes, work hard and get better, and to put myself out there to inspire other people. Our group, Flowin' Days, is still going strong 3 years later. We started a business in January 2015 and have been teaching kids and adults to juggle, hula hoop and play!
Hooping saved my life, or rather, helped me get the life I wanted. It brought me full-circle, from broken and nearly dead to full of life and gratitude. The message I try to radiate when I hoop is to believe in yourself and your strength and your resilience. Even though horribly painful things happen every day, this life we have is beautiful and precious,
and you should let nothing stop you from being who you want to be and doing what you love. Don't be afraid to be who you are.
You may not get a second chance. I'm not going to waste of minute of mine!
These days, I'm practicing and performing with my husband, Jeremy Philo. We run a weekly flow group in Norman, Oklahoma where we teach hooping, juggling, and unicycling to the community. Our dream is to travel the world spreading hoop love and flow to everyone we meet. We started a performance company last year, and were married on October 3, 2015. Here's a surprise performance from our big day.