Julianna Balsells, 22-years old, firmly believes that human potential is limitless.
She recently finished her degree in business engineering and is a sports enthusiast from Guatemala. Sports have been a great part of her life ever since she was a little girl, and they have helped shape her character in numerous ways. She was a competitive gymnast for 10 years and after retiring at the age of 15, she went on to practice a variety of sports including track and field, soccer, basketball, softball, and played as an outside hitter in the Guatemalan volleyball team for 3 years.
Later on, she found her love for calisthenics and functional training. She loves all kinds of movement and is passionate about overcoming the challenges found in sports. For her, sports are a source of incredible transformation and growth, and have been a major part of her daily life since she can remember.
FOLLOW HER ON IG: @juliebalsells
Q&A with Julianna
1) Can you share your ACL story?
October 4th, 2018. It was a typical day for me, waking up early and getting to the gym at 6 am to practice calisthenics. That day, I was attempting a new move called “360”, due to the fact that you let go of a high bar, make a full 360 degree turn in the air and grab on to the bar again. It was my third day practicing this move, and I felt confident about it, since I was used to performing flips and turns in the air. I swung my body into the air, but turned too slowly. I did not fully complete the 360 turn, so my feet hit the ground before I could grab on to the bar in the air. My right leg got caught in between 2 mats on the floor while my body was still spinning, and all my weight came down to my knee, which collapsed under the great pressure. Next thing I know, I feel a horrible pain in my knee and I fall to the floor.
I remember feeling about 15 seconds of intense, horrible pain. I then proceeded to bend and flex my knee a few times, and then thought to myself “whew, that was a close one, I think I didn’t break anything”. I stood up, put some ice on it for a while, and kept on training my upper body. After a while, when my body got cold after the training, my knee started hurting a lot. I had trouble walking and even standing for the next days, but even though many people tried to get me to see the doctor, I convinced myself that it was just a little sprain and it would get better after a few days. I didn’t want to give in to an injury and I wanted to appear strong. I knew that if I went to the doctor, he would tell me to rest from my training, which is the worst thing you could say to an athlete. I kept on training during 2 more weeks, doing low impact exercises that did not involve my legs. However, after the 2 weeks were up, my knee was still very swollen and I could not flex or bend it completely, so I finally went to the doctor.
I took my MRI and X-ray exams, and when my doctor called me to tell me the results, I was stunned. A completely torn ACL and a rupture in both my medial and lateral meniscus. What did this mean? Surgery and many months of rest and physical therapy. Due to the kind of tear in the medial meniscus, I had to be on crutches during 6 weeks, applying no pressure to my knee. It was so much to take in, and I immediately burst into tears. Great change was coming my way.I got operated the week later I heard the news, and today I am 8 weeks post op. These last months have been more challenging than anything I have gone through, but they have also been so incredibly motivating and empowering. I am walking without crutches now and slowly but surely regaining my strength. Each step in recovery is a great achievement, and I am ready to keep getting better and come back even stronger!
2) What was the hardest part of the recovery?
The toughest part of my recovery has definitely been the inner battle with myself and my mindset. I can surely say that the pain was something I could handle, but the mental lows that came along with the injury were the most challenging. What affected me the most was feeling vulnerable and weak, and thinking about the many things I would not be able to do during my recovery. Not being able to walk, move without pain, reach my things without asking for help, or even sleep through an entire night was so frustrating to me. I have always been someone who loves to move, loves to be active and loves to engage in outdoor activities. Movement and exercise are a MUST for me and are a part of my everyday life. Therefore, having to miss out on what I am most passionate about was heartbreaking.
I love training in the mornings because it puts me in a good mood for the rest of my day. It is a time where I can remove all stress, problems and negative energy. Therefore, not being able to train meant messing up my morning routine and my good mentality. The first few weeks were the toughest. Adding up the pain, the lying around my house all day, and not being able to attend normal social events resulted in emotional swings throughout my days. I tried to feel happy, motivated and cheerful most of the times, but all of a sudden, I would feel great sadness. These mood swings made me even more frustrated and being immobilized meant that I could not rely on my trainings and activities that put me in a good mood. However, this got better with time. The great amount of change coming to my life was tougher than I thought, and it is so important to find good mechanisms to cope with it and put yourself in a good mentality all day.
3) How did you get involved in calisthenics?
Sports have been a great part of my life and I remember performing flips and being in competitions since I was a little girl. I have practiced a variety of sports, from gymnastics to track and field, basketball, soccer, softball and volleyball. I retired from competitive sports at the age of 18 and enrolled in ordinary gyms, and switched to weight training and attending different cardio and functional classes- spinning, dance, HIIT, etc. I loved my training sessions and had such a good time, but there were times I missed flipping in the air, doing handstands, and competing with other people. I missed pushing my limits.
One day, I chatted with a guy (who is now my boyfriend) at the gym, and he started telling me about how he practiced calisthenics and what the sport was about. I love engaging in new sports, so of course I was very interested and accepted his invitation to train with him in a calisthenics gym. I went into the calisthenics gym not knowing exactly what to expect, and came out loving it. Due to the fact that I had been a gymnast for 10 years, many calisthenics moves came naturally to me and reminded me of my times of glory. I was able to practice new and exciting skills, and push limits I didn´t know I had. I felt free.
So of course, I kept on going with him to train occasionally, and started also learning skills to train on my own. What I loved the most about calisthenics was seeing progress every single day. In calisthenics, each day is an incredible accomplishment and you figure out things about yourself you didn’t know. Calisthenics not only helped me obtain strength and endurance, but it helped me gain control of my mind and body, and achieve new goals. I started liking it so much, I enrolled in one of the calisthenics gyms and started training the sport most days of the week. I can say it has revived a part of me that was long forgotten and has made me progress and grow in such amazing ways.
4) What advice would you like to share with other athletes recovering from an ACL injury?
My biggest advice to you would be to create a supportive, positive and empowering bubble around yourself. Surround yourself by loving and caring people, celebrate the small wins, and figure out what works for you in order to keep a positive state of mind. I now know that without my family, boyfriend and loved ones helping me and looking out for me, I would have had a much, much tougher time. Surround yourself with people that are willing to help you out as much as possible, that are willing to uplift your spirits when you are having a bad time, and that are pushing you to get better every single day. Do not be afraid to ask for help or to rely on others. These people are what keep me moving and who have made my recovery easier. They have helped me so much, and I am extremely grateful for having them in my life and in my recovery.
Secondly, remember that SMALL WINS MATTER. Even if it is being able to put your sock on by yourself, bending your knee 1 degree more, moving from your bed to the living room alone, CELEBRATE IT. In this injury, every single thing is progress. You have to find beauty in your accomplishments, no matter how small they are, because each little step added together results in getting closer to a full recovery.
Third, figure out a mechanism that sets a positive atmosphere for you every day. This injury sucks. This injury makes you question if you are ever going to get better. It is tough, and therefore you have to make it better with the right attitude. Figure out what works for you. For me, it is listening to motivational videos every single morning and writing in my journal about my daily accomplishments, goals and events that make me happy. This helps me remind me of everything that is right in my world, and if I have something negative to say, it stays in my journal and not on my mind. This mechanism has done wonders for me, but whether it is watching your favorite movies, talking to your friends in the morning, singing at the top of your lungs, whatever it is, find something that helps you get into a positive state of mind.
5) How did you prepare yourself for ACL surgery - mentally and physically?
My surgery was one week after I found out about my injury. My way to prepare for the surgery was cramming as much information into my brain about my injury as I could. Everything was happening so quickly, I did not have much time to think things through but knowing as much as I could about what was happening in my body, what exactly the doctor was going to do in the surgery, precautions, tips and motivating comebacks helped me so much. It gave me peace of mind and helped me be aware of all I had to do to have a good recovery. As I arrived at the hospital on the morning of my surgery, I was nervous, but I knew exactly what was going to happen in the operation room, what I needed to do once I woke up, and what could possibly go wrong. I believe it is so important to ask questions, read a lot and think through the process before you get operated.
6) What is are your goals/dreams after making a comeback?
My biggest goal is to make a full recovery, get back to the strength and skills I had before my injury, and come back even stronger. I want to use this injury experience to help people going through it and to motivate more people into seeing the beauty of recovery. I want to inspire people from all over the world to fall in love with movement and sports, to fall in love with growth and transformation, and to let them know that it is possible to come back after suffering through a fall. I want to keep improving and growing as an athlete, but I also want to help people who want to do the same. If I could go back in time, I would have stopped my injury from happening 1,000,000 times over, but having gone through it, I have learned and gotten through so much that I want to use this experience for the best.
Thank you Julianna for sharing your story and in inspiring athletes from across the globe!
SPECIAL THANKS TO Julianna’s RECOVERY TEAM:
DR. HUMBERTO KEPFER, SURGEON