A First Step of Hope: A former Oklahoma gymnast receives a new leg to change her life.

Posted Monday, Sep. 23, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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When Missy Seyler sees her husband and children enter the gym, she makes a beeline for them.

Her gym, Southlake Gymnastics Academy, is running several classes on a Thursday night, but anyone in her path stops as the 5-foot-2 strawberry blonde crosses tumble mats and runways of cushioning to see her family.

At first, her walk looks uncomfortable, with an Adidas slipper on one foot and a black Nike shoe on the other, but once she gets going, she moves like a woman on a mission.

The unique swagger to her walk is caused by the prosthetic leg she’s had for several weeks. The mission is her desire to return to an active lifestyle.

A familiar move

In 1992, Seyler was a walk-on for the gymnastics team at Oklahoma University.

Since she began practicing the sport at age 4 in Broken Arrow, Okla., she had always worn her Sooner pride and, at 22, was gearing up to compete at the collegiate level.

Then, at practice on July 13, 1992, everything changed.

“I was practicing one day and we were showing some skills, but I did a pretty basic move that I’ve done several times before,” Seyler said.

“When I landed and looked down, I was looking at the bottom of my foot,” she said.

Coach Skip Crawley came rushing to her side.

The career-ending injury landed her in the hospital, where she had surgery to repair a dislocated and shattered talus bone in her right foot.

“I wanted to compete for OU and I never got to do that,” she said. “I was actually going to go on scholarship and compete, but that was it. It was done.”

Moving forward

Seyler stepped back from the sport and walked the stage with a degree in business management.

“The hard part is, I love the sport of gymnastics and for a while I couldn’t even coach because it was painful just being in the gym, knowing that it was the end of my career,” she said.

She worked in banking and retail, and married fellow OU gymnast Mark Seyler.

The two moved to Flower Mound and started a family.

When their two oldest sons began competing in gymnastics, the couple decided to open their own gym and created the Southlake Gymnastics Academy almost five years ago.

Seyler was moving on, but her past injury would not let her.

After her first surgery, she contracted osteomyelitis, a staph infection in the bone.

The infection kept reoccurring; since 1992, Seyler has had 23 surgeries.

Seyler, now 44, has spent the past 20 years in pain and on medication.

“The pain was the worst part,” she said. “I couldn’t get up and step on my foot. I would have to think before I stepped because it would hurt.”

Seyler also had an ankle fusion, which robbed her of her ability to run.

“Being an athlete and being a gymnast, I always felt like I’m just not a sit-on-the-couch type of person,” she said. “I’d do as much as I could, but it was extremely painful to live all those years like that.”

The next step

With the academy open for a few years, Seyler returned to her love of coaching gymnastics.

The pain was holding her back. The injury led to further health problems and bouts of depression.

“Mentally, it wears on you,” she said. “I was depressed. I was not myself.”

To get through the pain, she found strength in her “gym family” — a collection of students and instructors who spend hours tumbling, defying gravity and practicing her favorite events.

Her four children, who she calls “gym rats,” are often found in the gym.

Last year, she began considering having her right leg amputated below the knee.

“I felt like I was going to die if I left it on,” she said. “The pain was so bad, and I was taking so much pain medication. Am I going to do this until my body gives out from the pain medication or take it off and try to live a healthy, clean life without that medicine?

“For me, truthfully, it was a life or death situation.”

Seyler consulted with doctors and friends and family before making the decision.

She had the surgery in May with the goal of getting a prosthetic leg as soon as possible. She knew she did not want a prosthetic that mimicked a natural leg.

Instead, she sports a shiny black and silver piece of equipment.

“I want people to know. I want to wear it and be proud of it, that I survived that,” she said.

She’s working her way up to a carbon fiber blade-like prosthetic that sprinter Oscar Pistorius wore at the London Olympics.

She said when she saw him compete, she knew that would be key to running again.

New walk of life

Seyler has worn her prosthetic for more than six weeks and cracks a wide smile when she talks about the leg.

“I’m happier than I was before,” she said, sitting on the floor of the gym watching her 2-year-old daughter run around in her leotard. “I feel like I have hope.”

She says walking with her leg is so natural now that she does not think about it.

“To be able to walk without pain and walk normal. ... It’s like I was set free,” she said.

She plans to begin jumping on the trampoline in a month and hopes to run a half-marathon next year.

Shannon Prince was her roommate in OU, but now coaches at the Southlake Gymnastics Academy.

“She’s had a million and one things to test her strength,” Prince said. “Every day you can see she’s getting brighter.”

Seyler moves to different parts of the gym, taking time to instruct her students on a balance beam or other equipment. One of her pupils runs up to her and asks her to watch her on the uneven bars, Seyler’s favorite event.

“She’s the ultimate evangelist of the sport,” her husband said. “She still believes in it.”

Dustin L. Dangli, 817-390-7770 Twitter: @dustindangli

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