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Real Life

Jess Quinn's secret struggle

The Dancing with the Starts darling reveals how she hit rock bottom after starring on the reality series

By Hayley McLarin
Giving less than 100 percent is not a concept high achievers live by. So for Jess Quinn, taking it easy and abandoning goals due to injury has been as mentally and emotionally harrowing as it has been physically painful.
The Dancing With The Stars NZ contestant survived cancer as a nine-year-old and had to learn to walk again after a life-saving leg amputation. However, a prosthetic leg didn't slow her down and her optimistic, go-getter attitude made her a social media sensation, and
a fitness and wellness advocate with more than 176,000 followers on Instagram.
Jess has achieved so much, but it was that drive that ultimately sent her plummeting.
"I kind of overdid it massively," the 28-year-old candidly tells Woman's Day. "I went from being insanely active to not being able to put my prosthetic on each day.For the first time since losing my leg 19 years ago, I felt disabled. The past two years have been beyond rough. I lost myself completely. I struggled to be happy."
'I lived really invincibly. In the body I have, I can't afford to live like that'
In 2016, Jess started training to run, but the effort required resulted in a stress fracture in her good calf, so she was forced to give it up. In mid-2018, Jess took part in Dancing With The Stars, with three months of up to 14 hours a day of training.
She placed third, after Samantha Hayes and Black Caps legend Chris Harris, but two months later, her good leg gave out again. This time, it was due to a groin injury.
Then, as her good leg was beginning to improve, the foot within her prosthetic leg started to swell, stopping her from being able to put it on most mornings. This led to her groin flaring up again because she could no longer divide her weight between the prosthetic and her leg.
Two years on, Jess has endured countless hours of physio and rehab, yet she can barely walk around a shopping mall. She's slowly had to come to terms with her limitations. Her ambition, if she dares to dream, is to be able to powerwalk for 20 minutes by the end of 2021.
Jess hopes maybe next year will be her year to complete Round the Bays
"For the previous five years, I maybe had been pushing my body beyond its limits," Jess confesses. "Running, for me, isn't as important as being able to have my body.
"I couldn't figure out why it's knocked me so much further than losing my leg to cancer did. It's felt like the lowest point of my life. I had built up all of these abilities after I'd lost them. And so to lose them again, hopefully just temporarily, hit harder."
Jess has achieved more with one leg than some people do with two. "Honestly, if I'd told that little girl all of the things I would be doing in the next 19 years, I know she wouldn't believe me," she says. However, it's been at a pace that isn't sustainable and, for Jess, the past two years have been the hardest of them all.
"For the first time since I was a kid, I've had moments where I wished I had two legs again."
Someone who naturally looks for positives, Jess tries to celebrate small wins. She has become an AIA Vitality ambassador, helping Kiwis to live longer, better, healthier lives – a mantra she is trying to follow too.
Jess came third place in the 2018 seasons of Dancing With The Stars
She has worked hard to adapt to a new prosthetic and recently, after a warm summer's weekend of more walking than she had done in a long time, she was able to put on her leg the next morning. She finally had the swelling under control.
"The pain and everyday wondering if my leg will go on is behind me, and there's no better feeling than that," Jess excitedly declares.
Before Auckland went into a last-minute Level 3 lockdown over the weekend, Jess was intending to be at the finish line of Round the Bays fun run in Auckland handing out medals to some of the participants.
"Last year's Round the Bays was probably one of the lowest days of my last couple of years. It was really inspiring – all sorts of people do it, from people in wheelchairs to mums pushing babies in prams. Everyone was doing it kind of at their own pace and in their own way, which was really cool.
"But I was pretty much standing in a prosthetic that didn't fit me, almost like wearing a child's shoe and expecting your foot to fit inside it. I was in pain, but there was no way I wasn't going to be there.
Jess' new puppy Scout
"I'd like to think that maybe I could do Round the Bays next year, but we will see. I'm the kind of person who tries to put a positive spin on everything, so this has been a blessing. It's really taught me to look after my body – to slow down. I lived really invincibly. In the body I have, I can't afford to live like that.
"Any adversity teaches us something. I've had some of the most amazing moments last year. I moved into a new place, which is really awesome, and I became an auntie for the first time."
She's also became mum to a new fur baby called Scout, a little brother for her dog Holly.
"I'm really looking forward to spending time training him and having someone else to take care of other than constantly focusing on myself," Jess smiles.
"I nearly didn't get a puppy because I know I can't walk him as much as he will need right now, but my partner will do that job.
"I'm hoping that as he grows and demands more, hopefully my abilities will grow with him.
"I got a puppy when I first finished my cancer treatment and it was the same – it's really nice having something else to look after, something to put your attention on and something who can grow with you.
"Last year was really bad, so this year, comparatively, I'm pretty happy. And then next year will be even better. I didn't climb bloody mountains to be defeated by a hill."

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