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‘Paralyzed’ Ballet Dancer Spins Back to Health After Assault Damaged His Spine

July 3, 2012

 Steven Morris, Monday April 2012

Jack Widdowson, front, before the attack in Cardiff that left him in intensive care. Photograph Philipp Zinniker/Stadttheater-PA

Jack Widdowson, 19, able to take part in full dance classes after doctors feared attack in Cardiff might paralyse him for life

A teenage ballet dancer who feared he would never walk again after sustaining a serious neck injury in an alleged street attack is not only back on his feet but has resumed his training.

Jack Widdowson, one of the youngest apprentices to be taken on by the Swiss company Bern:Ballett, spent a week in intensive care and six weeks in a spinal unit after the incident in Cardiff.

At first, the 19-year-old could only communicate by moving his eyebrows and his family was told he might never walk unaided again. But he started dance lessons in February and is helping students choreograph a routine for a charity event as he continues his rehabilitation.

Jack Widdowson

Widdowson, whose family lives near Bath, said the months since the attack in November had been challenging but it was important to remain positive.

“I’ve definitely had to learn to be more patient because it is a slow process,” said Widdowson. “And I need to be careful not to push my body too hard too quickly as it might lead to bad habits and further injury which will only delay things further.”

Widdowson, who had only been with the Swiss company for four months when he was injured, has undergone a gruelling schedule of physiotherapy, hydrotherapy, muscle-strengthening sessions and dance lessons. “It’s been great to be up and moving again and to be able to start dancing again,” he said.

Jack Widdowson

“I’ve done a few full ballet classes now, but the first ones went a bit pear-shaped. My turns are all right but I’m only doing singles. I could do a double but I think I will get into bad habits if I push myself too hard too early. Obviously, my big jumps at the moment still aren’t too great, but I’m getting there.”

Widdowson said he had been able to use some of the knowledge gleaned in Switzerland to help students at Tring Park School of Performing Arts, where he used to study, to choreograph their charity routine. This, in turn, had led him focus on some of his individual movements, which was helping with his rehabilitation.

Widdowson’s father, Julian, the head of sports medicine at Bath Rugby, said the family had been hugely proud when Bern:Ballett took him on. “Jack worked so hard towards achieving his dreams of becoming a professional ballet dancer and his determination to succeed was enormous.

Jack Widdowson

“To see him lying in the bed and to be told that he may never be able to walk again, let alone dance, was heartbreaking. We had no idea what the following weeks or months would hold for him or for us, all we knew was that regardless of cost, we had to do whatever we could to give him a fighting chance to regain as much movement as possible.”

Julian Widdowson’s expertise has helped make sure his son got the best care. His mother, Celia, a hospital maths and science teacher, designed a programme to help him stay positive. She also accompanied him when he resumed dancing lessons.

Julian Widdowson said: “Jack has continually defied expectation of all the clinicians, therapists and medical staff around him with his progress and we remain amazed by his determination to make a fully recovery.

“Jack has come a long way since he was discharged from hospital. However, we are under no illusions that there is still a lot of hard work ahead before he fulfils his goal of returning to his apprenticeship.”

The family has launched a foundation, Dance Again, to help Widdowson return to the stage and to provide assistance to other injured dancers.

Jack Widdowson


From → Ballet, Dance

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