Unstoppable: How Lauren Henderson Has Redefined Success Despite Severe Bilateral Bunions

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Some people can be struggling with physical limitations that cannot always be seen by others. Always treat others with kindness and respect as you never know what may be going on in their lives.

As a part of our “Unstoppable” series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lauren Henderson.

Lauren Henderson is a 21-year-old student originally from Georgia. She us currently attending Marshall University, where she is studying health sciences and sports management and is a member of the school’s diving team. After severe bilateral bunions nearly ended her diving career, she is speaking out about her experience undergoing treatment for them in an effort to build awareness of treatment options.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! It is really an honor. Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

Thank you so much for allowing me to share my experiences and story! I started doing gymnastics at the age of three where I quickly fell in love with the sport and would continue participating for the next fifteen years of my life. Those fifteen years and gymnastics as a whole made me into the person I am today, in all areas of my life. I once dreamed of becoming one of the collegiate gymnasts that I grew up admiring. However, it all took a turn when I entered high school and my body could no longer handle the demands of gymnastics. I decided to try out diving as it was easier on my body, while continuing to do gymnastics at the same time. After a year, I learned that doing both sports at the same time would be impossible and I knew I would ultimately have to pick one. I then decided to let go of the sport of gymnastics that I had devoted my entire life to up until that point. It was a hard decision and transition to make but I knew it was the best decision for my body, health and future. Diving became my top priority and focus, and I began training more and more with hopes and dreams of still becoming a collegiate athlete. I surprised myself with the progress I made in a few short years and during my senior year of high school, I accepted a scholarship offer to be a part of Marshall University’s Women’s Swimming and Diving program. I was so excited to join the team and live out my dreams of becoming a division 1 college athlete. Shortly after arriving, I quickly fell in love with the team and the school and knew this was where I was supposed to be! It was then that I knew my work over the years had never been a waste, and that there was always a greater plan even when I did not understand it in the moment.

Do you feel comfortable sharing with us the story surrounding how you became disabled or became ill? What mental shift did you make to not let that “stop you”?

I noticed bunions started to form on my feet while I was still a gymnast, however they didn’t bother me much at all at first. In fact, I never experienced pain from them until I became a collegiate athlete. During my freshman year, the pain from my bunions continued to get worse and worse. I believe training 20 hours a week, lifting weights, doing conditioning exercises and the constant jumping on springboards at practice allowed my bunions to progress until the pain became unbearable. Towards the end of my freshman year, I could no longer train, walk or live a normal everyday life without being in pain. This was devastating as I was overwhelmed with worry about what my future held as a college athlete. It was then that I knew something had to be done if I wanted to continue diving. I tried several different methods of managing my pain including medications, injections, and rehabilitation, but nothing seemed to work. After discussing my options with my coaches, trainers and team doctors, it was evident that I needed to see a specialist and discuss other options. I met with Dr. Michael Gentile in Huntington, West Virginia and learned about the Lapiplasty® Procedure, which would ultimately become the surgery I underwent on both feet to permanently correct my bunions. I knew I had a long recovery ahead, but I also knew I had to prove to myself that this wouldn’t be the end of my story as a collegiate athlete. Giving up and letting this defeat me was never an option, and I made sure my mentality was to keep moving forward and take one day at a time. Thanks to Dr. Gentile and the Lapiplasty® Procedure, I am now able to do what I love again and make the younger version of myself who dreamed of being a collegiate athlete proud.

Can you tell our readers about the accomplishments you have been able to make despite your disability or illness?

During my freshman year at Marshall University, I scored lifetime bests on the one meter, three meter and platform events throughout the season. I also scored the second all-time best score in Marshall University history on one meter at the conference championship, qualified for NCAA Division 1 zones, and earned the Scholar All-America award. Following the surgeries on both of my feet that took place in 2020 and 2021, I made a full recovery and returned to practicing and competing for Marshall University, which I consider an accomplishment in itself.

In addition to getting my physical abilities back, I have learned how to better fight through adversity and create a mentality that I believe will help in all areas of my life. I learned that life will not always go the way planned or the way you thought it should go, but your perspective and how you react when faced with adversity, is what will set you up for success. It is an honor to be able to provide advice and encouragement to others who are also facing adversity in their own lives.

What advice would you give to other people who have disabilities or limitations?

Your disabilities or limitations do not define you, your worth, or your purpose. You must always believe that there is some sort of good that can come out of any situation, even when it may be hard to see or understand. Embrace what the negatives and focus on your perspective and mindset to help you get through the adversity you are facing. Nothing worth having in life comes easy. If you allow your disabilities or limitations to “break you,” they will. You must keep the bigger picture in mind and keep pushing through and moving forward even when all you want to do is give up. You will be thankful you kept going in the end. Lastly, it is never a weakness to get help with whatever you may be going through. Never hesitate to reach out if you are struggling with disabilities or limitations.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?

My faith has always been a big part of my life. Trusting that God has a plan, even in the hardest and most challenging times of my life is something I have always and will continue to live by. I would not have been able to overcome the physical, mental and emotional challenges over the last couple of years without trusting His purpose and plan for my life even when I did not always understand. Therefore, He gets the glory for everything in my life, as it has never been just of my own doing.

Secondly, my parents have sacrificed so much over the years in order to help me reach my full potential. There is no way to express the gratitude I have for them and their support throughout my entire life, especially these last couple of years being a collegiate athlete. I was also blessed with the most supportive and uplifting teammates that I could ever imagine. I am forever thankful for them and the role they played in helping me recover and get back to diving.

Lastly, I am so thankful for my surgeon Dr. Gentile and his team for giving me the opportunity to carry out my dreams of continuing to dive in college. If not for him and the Lapiplasty® Procedure, I know none of this would have been possible.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I strive to help those in my life and whomever else I can that may be going through similar struggles and limitations that I also went through. Being a college athlete is challenging both mentally and physically and I am grateful that I am surrounded by other athletes that I get to encourage and help in any way I can by sharing my experiences and helping them overcome their own obstacles.

Can you share “5 things I wish people understood or knew about people with physical limitations” and why.

Some people can be struggling with physical limitations that cannot always be seen by others. Always treat others with kindness and respect as you never know what may be going on in their lives.

Physical limitations can also take a toll on one’s mental and emotional health, especially when the limitations are out of their control.

People aren’t looking for sympathy or pity or to be treated differently or less than because of their limitations.

Support and encouragement through what can be a hard time in others’ lives can go a long way with someone with physical limitations.

Each person’s struggles and limitations are unique to that individual and cannot be compared to another’sstruggles, whether they are similar or completely different.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?

“When have you ever achieved anything meaningful in your life that did not have something attached to it? Like some level of pain, suffering, or adversity. The answer is nothing. When have you ever done something that gave you true fulfillment that was trapped within the confines of your comfort zone? Nothing. It’s only when we peak beyond the boundaries of the comfort zone and see what’s out there. That is what expands your comfort zone and moves the goalposts. You make it a ritual part of your existence and part of your mindset.” — Brent Gleeson

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this 🙂

Simone Biles, who is also known as the most decorated gymnast in all of history. She is someone who I have always looked up to throughout my career as an athlete. Simone’s story of overcoming adversity and achieving greatness has inspired me to become the best athlete I can and to use my experiences to inspire others as well.

Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!

Unstoppable: How Lauren Henderson Has Redefined Success Despite Severe Bilateral Bunions was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.