Reason to cheer
The round-off back handspring that changed everything.
Story by Ariana Gainer
Photos by Michelle Pemberton
Fifteen-year-old Key Clubber Macy Huff was popular. She was a cheerleader at Ben Davis High School in Indianapolis, Indiana. She was talented, but also, as she says, a bit arrogant. The younger cheerleaders on her squad looked up to her. She enjoyed that feeling.
One day, Huff was demonstrating a round-off back handspring—a routine gymnastics maneuver. But something went wrong. She fell. She tried to get up, only to find that she couldn’t move. Her arms, her legs: Nothing worked. She panicked. “What is happening,” she silently screamed.
In a split second, the popular, energetic high school cheerleader became a quadriplegic.
The following year, Huff spent the majority of her time in the hospital or in rehab. She had to relearn many basic skills—even breathing regularly. After that year, she went back to school, ashamed, embarrassed, afraid and uncertain what to expect. But she’s come a long way since then.
Before the accident, she was an average student.
“When you’re in high school, you think you can slack off,” Huff says. “But once you have a spinal cord injury, you have to be willing to fight.”
That fight in Huff carried over to her academics. She jumped from a 2.8 GPA before her accident to a 3.6 while taking six advanced-placement and honors courses. She even found time to be involved in her high school’s Key Club, participating in food drives and Relay for Life.
Though Huff has attained a sense of normalcy since her accident, her journey is far from over. She still spends much of her time in physical therapy to regain full use of her limbs. When she first met her therapists, she couldn’t move at all. She felt helpless, but never hopeless. She began her physical therapy journey at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis. She had a specific goal to accomplish: to begin moving her arms again.
“It was intense,” Huff says. “It was twice a day for a couple hours. I was just trying to move my arms, and then I was sitting up on my own and moving.”
Once she met her goal at Riley, she continued on to the Rehabilitation Hospital of Indiana. During a rehab session, she noticed another patient relearning to walk with a pair of parallel bars. “I want to do that,” she told her therapist. But her therapist didn’t think she was quite ready for that. Again, the next week, Huff asked if she was ready to get out of her chair to use the parallel bars. Again, her therapist was hesitant. But this time, she decided to let her try. So she helped Huff out of her chair and before long, Huff was standing in leg braces and walking using the parallel bars. After that, she continued to progress and now can transfer in and out of her wheelchair without help.
She set a goal to walk across the stage at her high school graduation.
Huff’s first love remains cheering. It took her quite some time to summon the courage to return to the gym. But the day she did changed her life. Now, she works as a tumbling and cheering coach at the very gym where she had her accident. And she loves it. She loves watching the girls and encouraging them and helping them to get better.
So what’s Huff’s biggest accomplishment so far?
“My change in attitude,” she says. “I was a 15-year-old girl and a cheerleader. I thought the world revolved around me. But my perspective on life changed. Positive things happened from it. I look at the world differently.”
Fellow Key Clubber Ellie Johnson has noticed a difference in the friend she’s known since seventh grade, long before the accident.
“I want to warn people about her sass,” Johnson says—kind of jokingly, kind of seriously. “But she’s really matured through all of this. She takes things a lot more seriously now, and I don’t ever see her in a bad mood.”
Because of the way Huff has overcome adversity with grace and poise, the Kiwanis Club of Indianapolis awarded her a US$8,000 scholarship to help her attend college. (Read the story)
But before college, Huff had one ambitious goal to achieve. In June 2016, she proudly walked across stage at her high school graduation ceremony. She knew she could do it. And she did.