Fitness

Amputee model Jess Quinn on staying active

After surviving bone cancer, Jess Quinn isn’t letting anything hold her back from living an active lifestyle.

By Sara Bunny

She lost her leg – and almost her life – to bone cancer, but Jess Quinn isn’t one to dwell on negatives.

The 24-year-old social media star is busy carving out a new career online, inspiring a league of followers through her popular Instagram account, working as a brand ambassador for Clinique, and preparing to launch a wellness blog.

Jess chatted to Good Health Choices about the life lessons she’s learned so far.

Never give up

Auckland-based Jess was nine years old when she fractured her femur. Despite surgery to put metal rods in her thigh, followed by months in a plaster cast, doctors were baffled when the break refused to heal.

After a round of tests, they discovered the reason – Jess had osteosarcoma, an aggressive form of bone cancer.

“Things happened really quickly from there,” she says.

“I was straight into hospital for chemo, and after about five months they realised they needed to amputate. I remember being sat down and told I would lose my leg, but when you’re nine, I don’t think you really understand the implications of things.”

She was only the second person in New Zealand at the time to have the pioneering surgery that followed, a method that would allow her to have as much movement as possible with a prosthetic leg.

After surgery, there was another four months of chemo to contend with.

“That was the darkest time,” she remembers. “It nearly killed me. Later when I got my prosthetic leg, the difficulty learning to walk again was a massive shock. I had been a really active kid and I would get really frustrated not having the mobility. It was a huge adjustment period.”

But Jess was determined to get moving again.

She kept positive by seeing every little gain as an achievement, and these days, she’s not only walking, she’s running.

Focus on positivity

“I have amazing support from family and friends, and I genuinely think so many good things have come out of what I’ve gone through, I don’t even know if I would change it.

“I usually train for about an hour a day, and I work with a coach who is a strength and conditioning expert. As I’ve got my running blade now, short distance and track running is my next training goal. I also do a lot of rehab-based work, and I’ve got an osteopath and a physio – there’s a whole team.

“I’ve got all these different legs now, so it’s pretty unusual! I can’t run without my blade, and I can’t swim without my swimming leg, and then I also have my everyday leg – it’s like they all have different personalities attached to them!”

Give yourself time

“Looking back at all that’s happened, I did probably internalise more than I should have. But on the other hand, there were a few things I just needed to sort through on my own."

"I dealt with a lot of stuff when I was in my teens; it was really hard for me then, coming to terms with everything. I think anyone who has suffered trauma has to go through that process."

“Small things used to get me down – people staring at me, always having to go 10 times slower than everyone else, or looking ridiculous trying to walk up stairs. But now, all those things aren’t even a factor. It is what it is. I still have off days but it’s not so much related to my leg anymore, it’s more of a ‘feeling fat day’ or a ‘bad hair day!"

Learn to take it easy

“I was over-training for a while. I got to a point where I was training for about three hours a day, and absolutely killing myself – not really for any aesthetic reasons; I just had these big goals and I got it into my head that I had to smash them."

“But I was only injuring my body along the way. I really had to reassess that and figure out how important it is to slow down – you don’t need to be putting your body through all that stress!"

“It’s so important to look at the gym and exercise as part of [overall wellness], not the whole thing. Sometimes your body just needs rest.”

Ditch food hang-ups

“I have seen so many nutritionists over the past few years and tried everything, from paleo and high-fat, low-carb to high-carb, low-fat – honestly everything! I’ve recently just started working with a new nutritionist, called The Fit Foodie."

“She’s been amazing; I went to her and said ‘I’m so sick of being on an eating plan. I feel like I’m stressing my body out more than it needs to be. I just want to learn to eat intuitively again’, and she’s really taught me that."

“It’s been life-changing for me – I’m no longer going, ‘I have to have my broccoli now, and then my chicken and brown rice!’ I’m listening to my body, which has helped me a lot with hormonal issues, and also with my training."

Take a risk

“I did fashion and product design at uni, so I was working in that industry until recently. It then got to a point where I had all of these other projects on the go, and I just wanted to take a leap of faith and have a try at working at them full-time. So far, it’s all going really well."

“I do a little bit of modelling and collaborations with brands, and I’m now an ambassador for Clinique. It’s so exciting as I have always been mad on skincare!"

“What I also love is being able to help and inspire others. A lot of my following is based in the States and it’s awesome to be connected with so many different people, and to hear their stories."