MONTEVIDEO – Kristin DeJong is no different than any other teenager in this southwest Minnesota town. She’s a sophomore in high school who plays volleyball in the fall and is a member of the Montevideo Gold Dusters dance team in the winter.
The fact that she has a partially prosthetic left leg is an absolute afterthought. Absolutely.
“We’ve never doubted anything that she could do,” said her mother, Andrea.
The Gold Dusters did not quality for this weekend’s state dance tournament at Target Center. They made it to state last year and Kristin and the other non-seniors will have more chances to return. The Gold Dusters put on a great show in both categories – jazz and kick – at Saturday’s Class 1A Section 3 championships in the Montevideo gym, but it wasn’t enough to advance from an extremely strong section. Teams from Lac qui Parle Valley/Dawson-Boyd, Yellow Medicine East and BOLD will represent Section 3 in both categories at state.
Kristin was 4 years old when she lost her leg below the knee in a lawn mower accident. She was involved in dance before the accident, and it didn’t take very long for her to resume a very normal and active childhood
The accident took place on August 20, 2006, and she began going to Shriners Hospital for Children in Minneapolis in late September. Shriners does amazing work in prosthetics, and Kristin was walking with a prosthesis by late October. She has been routinely fitted with new prosthetics as she has grown.
“No one usually notices,” she said. “I walk normal, like everyone else. Usually people are surprised when I tell them about it.”
For unknowing people watching the Gold Dusters, it would be next to impossible to notice that one of the dancers was unlike the others.
“She does everything that the other dancers do,” said Montevideo coach Amanda Macziewski. “If we come across a move that she struggles with a little bit, she’s open to telling us and we adjust as needed. She’s an amazing dancer, amazing kicks.”
Kristin, who became a varsity dancer last season, isn’t afraid to have a little fun with her friends when the subject is her prosthetic leg.
“One time during softball I got hit (in the prosthetic) with a pitch and the (pitcher) was like, ‘Oooooh.’ But my team was laughing because I walking just fine. As a joke, one of my friends printed the word ‘bruise’ and taped it on my leg. It’s an ongoing joke.”
She has lost a prosthetic leg while tubing, watching it pop off and sink to the bottom of the lake. She has broken them, another sign of how active she is.
“When they’re more stiff on the ankle they don’t bend as much,” she said. “I wear them out pretty fast, jumping up and down and just running. My doctor tells me I wear them out faster than other people because I’m so active.”
Andrea said that after the accident it was difficult for her and her husband, Doug, to imagine what the future would hold. But Kristin can’t be kept down.
“We had no idea what was in store and what she’d be able to do,” Andrea said. “She handles things quite well and she’s a very good communicator. She lets us know how things are going and if anything is changing.” (Pictured are the Gold Dusters; Kristin is in the front row, fourth from right.)
Kristin gets fitted for a new prosthesis every six months to a year, depending on her growth rate. As a member of the Montevideo kick team, she and her teammates wear matching black shoes and leggings while performing. It’s possible to see the upper cuff of the prosthetic leg sticking out ever so slightly just under Kristin’s knee, but she has to be in the right position for it to be visible.
“People don’t notice it and they’re amazed when they do,” Andrea said. “Being from small communities, word of mouth gets around, and we have friends in other towns. People come up to us and say she’s an inspiration.”
Kristin looks exactly like everyone else on the floor because she is exactly like everyone else on the floor.
“She’s definitely given the girls something to push forward to,” said Macziewski. “She’s never used it as an excuse for not being able to do anything. The girls treat her just like anybody else.”
Which is exactly how Kristin wants it.
“I love going to competitions and competing,” she said. “And I like the family part, being part of the team.” Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn