Emily Lewis began 2017 in the intensive care unit, unsure if she would ever be able to compete in gymnastics again.
Thirteen months later, the Anderson (Cincinnati) senior placed sixth in the floor exercise at the city championships.
The Gymskins captain was in perfect health until one day at a practice before her junior season she noticed a discoloration in her arm. It took doctors a few weeks to diagnose her with vascular thoracic outlet syndrome, caused by a blot clot under her clavicle. Next came surgery to remove a rib, then complications from surgery that sent her to the University Hospital ICU.
“It was something very scary that you don’t anticipate happening to a 16 year old, especially a kid who was perfectly healthy her whole life,” said Gymskins coach Stacey Bailey. “You never want to see a teenager in that condition.”
Lewis was sidelined for her entire junior season. She missed competing, but she especially missed her teammates. She returned to the mats on January 7 of this year and has placed in four of her six meets so far this season.
“It’s really rewarding. The best part about it was just being able to be around my teammates and the environment,” she said. “I learned what is truly important about being on a team and having those support systems. My family and my team were extremely supportive.”
Her coach knows a thing or two about overcoming adversity. Bailey has been battling breast cancer for nearly four years. She coaches through significant pain caused by the side effects of her treatments every day, but still led her Gymskins to a second place finish at the city championships on Feb. 17. When Lewis was at one of her scariest moments in the ICU, Bailey was there to provide encouragement.
“We are able to rely on each other. Stacey was really, really, really supportive, constantly telling me that everything is going to be okay,” said Lewis. “Having that validation has really helped me through my high school career.”
Lewis has had to make some adjustments. She now wears a compression sleeve under her leotard. But the biggest adjustments she’s made have been mental. The doctors put her on blood thinners and advised her that one bad fall could lead to death. She had to overcome that fear while becoming more sensitive to what was going with her body. Gymnastics is already a grueling mental sport, and adding additional concerns was a challenge. Surviving a health scare that could have ended her gymnastics career, or worse, has made Lewis stronger.
“Going through medical issues are a totally different ballgame. My toughness has grown from my medical issues, which transferred to gymnastics,” she said. “If I can do that, heck yeah, I can throw a tumbling pass. I don’t think I was as tough as I could have been before. Your perspective changes when you go through something like that.”
Bailey’s latest visit to her oncologists at the Stefanie Spielman Comprehensive Breast Center at Ohio State showed stability. That was welcome news. But the most exciting part of 2018 for Bailey was finally welcoming her daughter Mattie to the Gymskins.
Jan. 7 was Lewis’s first meet back and it was also Mattie Bailey’s first meet as a Gymskin. The freshman has grown up in the program and is now finally a member of the team that she has been cheering for since birth.
“She was always our ultimate cheerleader,” said Lewis. “Finally being able to accept her with open arms and have be one of us has been so exciting and rewarding.”
Mattie Bailey placed sixth in the beam and 10th in the all-around at the city championships. Lewis and Bailey were two of six Gymskins to place in the top 10 of their event. That was the most top 10 finishes of any team, leading Anderson to a second-place finish behind Forest Hills rival Turpin.
Stacey Bailey’s motto since her diagnosis has been to win the day. Watching her daughter thrive for the Gymskins and seeing Lewis overcome her medical scare have been constant victories this season.
“We as coaches were very, very pleased with how quickly she came back to form. It was very stressful on her. She’s worked incredibly hard,” said Bailey of her senior captain. “If you ever see someone compete on the floor, you’ll never see them look as happy as Emily Lewis. To finish in the top 10 in the city is a huge accomplishment.”
Finally coaching Mattie at Anderson is a dream 15 years in the making.
“It’s been awesome. The last six months she has been the most coachable athlete, which is really huge. She’s been a great team player. She’s as stubborn and hard-headed as I am, so we’ve had our moments in the gym,” said Bailey. “The last four or five months, she’s really come into her own. Unfortunately as mom, sometimes you’re the hardest critic, but she’s been a great asset to the team and has a great attitude to go with it.”