Since her childhood Elena likes to do sports – especially dancing. In her youth she got severe knee pain because of a missing thigh muscle and fatty tissue in her left leg. However, a life without dance and movement is unimaginable for Elena – that’s why the 31-year-old continues to dance as long as her legs play along.
Sportsfriends 2018: Interview with Elena
Women’s Health: Before we begin – you can do something very special with hula hoops?
Elena: I can do rope skipping at the same time as I circle a hula hoop around my hips. Or I can also get down on my knees, pick up a ball from the ground with my knees, get up again and take the ball with one hand. There are also proof videos of this!
We believe you even without a video! Did you start early with sports or why can you do that?
Well, I am one of those happy people who are quite flexible without having to do much, such as stretching. But I also stood on skis for the first time when I was 3 or 4 years old. When I was 6, I also started dancing, and since then sport has simply been a very important part of my life.
But you’ve had to give up sports in your life. Can you tell us why?
Since birth, I have been missing all the fatty tissue on the outside of my left leg as well as a thigh muscle. In addition, a part of the kneecap is missing. So far no doctor could explain why one leg is like this and the other one is normal. It was a gradual process until my left knee gave up. I was operated on my knee for the first time when I was 14, after that it went steeply downhill: chronic pain and further operations until I was 18.
Sport was out of the question at all, as I could barely get up or down stairs without infernal pain.
“I have the luck to be naturally quite agile” © Stephan Wieser
Was it hard to give up sports?
Because it was intimated over a longer period of time, it was not surprising. One could speak of luck in misfortune, since it occurred at an age when I had many other things on my mind. But this did not last forever and at some point I simply noticed that something important was missing.
When was the last time you could stand it and started doing sports again?
When I was a student, I started jogging when I was in my early 20’s. I just missed exercise and sports. I ran very regularly, actually every morning before university and really enjoyed it. After a forest run with my dad I suddenly had very bad knee pain, after that even fast walking was painful. I must have misstepped on the soft forest floor and it seemed that something splintered off in my knee. Then sport was absolutely taboo again.
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A nasty setback. But you didn’t let it get you down?
I tried again in the master’s program. I was able to use fitness equipment such as a treadmill and exercise bike in my parents’ basement to run or ride my bike. However, I only really started dancing again when I moved to Frankfurt and looked for a dance group. I always enjoyed dancing more than any other sport. Equipment bores me very quickly and if I don’t feel like doing a sport, then I inevitably have to force myself to do it – and that can’t be it.
And since then you have been back to sports?
Since then I have increased my sports workload and dance regularly again. I also visit my orthopaedist regularly to keep an eye on everything.
When she dances, Elena forgets everything around her. © Stephan Wieser
Are you still in pain?
As far as pain is concerned, I have unfortunately had it for years, 365 days a year – with or without sport. Currently it looks like both knees are so badly damaged that even a sports stop wouldn’t improve. That I started dancing again probably didn’t like my knees that much. But I have long since learned to live with the pain. Of course I still listen to my body if one or both knees don’t like something. I live with it – and quite honestly: there are also clearly worse things.
What’s your orthopedist say?
At the last appointment, she said: “If I were you, I would do whatever you want. I wouldn’t reduce the sport and as long as you can stand the pain, you continue as before. That’s all you can break.” I liked that and that’s how I do it.
Why is it that you do not want to give up your sport before you have to?
Someone who saw me on stage once told me that she was fascinated how I seemed to be simply in my own world in front of so many people and looked completely happy and satisfied. That’s quite true: Dancing makes me forget everything, and I can also express my feelings and mood very well. For example, when I do choreography for my groups, it usually reveals a lot about my emotional state at that moment. The passion is just incredibly deep, and dancing never gets boring for me.
Is your family behind your decision, or are they worried about your health?
Both. When I had only dancing and gymnastics on my mind as a child and wanted to do that professionally, my parents were not very enthusiastic. Through my knee I had to “learn something sensible”. But still I could never let go of the sport and now I do it full-time. But my family and friends are happy with everything that makes me happy and support me. Of course, people close to me also worry about my physical weaknesses.
I can understand and comprehend this very well, but mostly I don’t want to hear it.
Besides dancing, Elena also gives classes with barbells. © Stephan Wieser
What have you learned that makes sense?
I studied social pedagogy, social work and educational science. In addition, I have a doctorate in educational science. For about a year I have been teaching at a university and giving lectures in the social work course.
But your main job is fitness trainer?
Right, I give about 30 courses or hours per week.
How did you end up a coach?
At some point it was no longer enough for me to dance only the choreos of my coach, I wanted to find my own style. So first I got my hip-hop license. Then I started as a trainer with dance classes for children, with dance-based workouts. From then on it was always like that, as soon as I was interested in something or I needed something new, I made a new license. Today I have 9 licenses, offer barbell courses, Hula-Hoop, I am a personal trainer and nutrition coach.
I enjoy my courses very much, I train great people and rarely have the feeling of “working”.
This way to Elena’s blog
When did you decide to quit your original profession and take a new path?
At some point I realized that I was no longer happy and needed a break. I did my doctorate, worked full-time and already did licenses and offered courses. Everything on its own is great, everything together is not. At some point I was pretty out of it because it was just too much. When I quit my job, I had already been working as a dancer part-time for a year and a half and had given many courses – so I didn’t take any financial risk.
I didn’t give up my job completely, because I am now active as a teacher. Both careers, academic and sports, will not end in the near future!
Through your knees you have a special relationship to movement. What does it mean to you?
She makes my day. I love the feeling of being completely exhausted after sports, that always brings a deep satisfaction. And I am always fascinated anew what my body can do.
What does your sporting future look like?
My knees are both shot, I’m afraid. I cannot foresee how long I can do everything, but I just hope for the best. I definitely want to continue dancing and giving classes as long as possible – but I’m still working on my academic career. I love teaching and I want to continue doing that. I can well imagine switching to a university at some point, but the sport will go on as long as it can.
As long as I have legs and feet that carry me, I won’t stop dancing – and even after that I’ll just continue sitting.