Esmee Gummer was told by doctors she would never walk again. She is now a qualified personal trainer and has just released her DVD Train Like A Cheerleader. "It's been a long journey to get to where I am now. I have to stop and remember that I used to be paralysed from the waist down". Read her amazing story.
Hi Esmee, firstly, tell us about your DVD. What made you want to make it?
I used to be a cheerleader at Crystal Palace Football Club and was approached about collaborating fitness and cheerleading to design a workout. There was nothing really out there that used cheerleading, so I thought it was a really good idea to introduce it to the fitness scene. Cheerleading is so much fun, and the minute you give someone a pair of pom poms their mood suddenly changes. They almost become a child again! It completely takes your mind off the fact that you are doing a workout because the excitement of waving pom poms around takes your mind off it.
You had a botched operation before you went to dance college, what happened?
When I was 18, six weeks before I was to start college, I went to have a hernia repair. I had a reaction to the drugs which caused me to have a seizure for eight hours. As a consequence, I was left with no short term memory, a speech impediment, lack of motor skills and paralysis from waist down. After three days I started to recover, but I remained paralysed from waist down. The doctor told me I wasn't going to walk again. I couldn't accept this. I demanded physio but they wouldn't move me. I eventually convinced them and started physio without being able to feel or move my legs. It was a long journey and took three weeks of intense physio, walking with the aid of parallel bars. I was eventually allowed to leave the hospital once I could stand and take a few steps. I was in a wheelchair and continued therapy for six months.
How did dance, and in particular cheerleading as a form of dance, help you through your recovery?
The hardest part of the recovery was the mental side of it. I had completely lost all confidence in dance, especially the fact that my friends had all gone to dance college and I was learning to walk again. It was a huge reality check, and all I did was compare myself to how I used to be. I eventually had the courage to start cheerleading as a friend (Deanna Brash also an instructor at Gymbox) introduced me to a group she was training with, and said I should come and try. I thought it was a really random thing to do as I had never heard of this type of cheerleading (dancing with pom poms NBA style) in this country. However, this was perfect because I 'd never tried it before, so had no comparison. It was a great way to ease me back into dance without taking it too seriously. How can you be serious with a pair of sparkly pom poms in your hands surrounded by an amazing group of girls laughing, cheering and dancing?
How were you able to cope with the negative feelings resulting from the operation?
One of the most common questions I get asked is how did you lay in a bed paralysed and not freak out? Don't get me wrong it was petrifying – I felt tortured and trapped. I would lay alone with my thoughts and privately panic to myself at the harsh realisation that I could be like this forever. But that is exactly what made cope. It made me stronger, wiser and completely in touch with myself. This is the time in my life that I became friends with myself. I had to learn very quickly that people may be around, come visit, help you out and keep you company, but the minute they are gone it's just you. You have to got accept it. This helped me deal with negative feelings because whenever I felt angry or depressed about what had happened to me, I said to myself, "Esmee, you've got me, we're going to be alright!".
Is cheerleading aimed towards a specific type of woman? Or is it open to all?
Open to all! When I say all I mean all. I've noticed how people have sectioned off cheerleading as an easy workout where you just dance around and shake pom poms. It's far from that, it's very physically demanding and my classes focus on the strength and conditioning behind being a cheerleader. There are arm, leg and ab drills which are hardcore and a HIIT section which would challenge anyone from a beginner to athlete. I train myself hard, so I deliver that to the attendees. Then at the end of the class we put on the fun and cheesy old school music soundtrack to learn a routine and have fun!
You're now a VPT, how do you feel about yourself having come so far from when you were unwell?
It's been a long journey to get to where I am now, and I actually have to stop and remember that I used to be paralysed. The experience I went through from not being able to walk to the rehabilitation, and even then on to the training to get back to good physically fitness, has made me who I am today. I feel blessed to be back to full health, and am extremely grateful. It breaks me now when I see people who aren't physically able or who are just generally struggling, because all I want to is help them.
How will your experiences help you train other people?
I want to motivate people in every way I can, and at any stage of their journey. I believe that no one should enter fitness solely to lose weight or change their body. People ask me "how did you get your body like that?" or "what training do you do?" or "what can I do to have a body like yours?". I didn't get my body like this because I chose to make that my ultimate goal. My goal was to walk again, then it was to run again, then it was to jump, run for longer, do an extra rep this week... Don't go to the gym or into a class with your only goal being to lose weight or change the way your body looks. You will come out and look in the mirror and just be disappointed that nothing has changed in the space of an hour. Instead make your goal mental and achievable: 10 press ups instead of 8, an 11 minute run instead of 10 – and so on. When you hit the goal, keep moving on to the next one, and the next one. Then one day you will look in the mirror and say "damn when did that happen?!"
Feeling inspired by Esmee's story? Then try a class! Book in right here.
Read about her in the Daily Mail right here.