Rallying together for a purpose

Published 9:59 pm Monday, February 14, 2011

The Austin dance team has overcome some setbacks this year to get to the state meet. Pictured are (back row, left to right): seniors Tyler Bramwell, Brandi Ruroden, Emily Johnson, Marni Surdy, and Katie Johnson; front row: Katelyn Joseph and Anissa Zynda. Joseph and Zynda were in a serious car accident before the season began. -- Rocky Hulne/sports@austindailyherald.com

The Austin dance team’s season started with a nightmare, but thanks to the Packers rallying together, they’ve turned it into a dream come true.

Right as the team was getting ready to start chasing their ninth straight trip to state, which they qualified for on Saturday, it suffered a huge blow when five of its dancers were injured in a serious car accident in mid-November.

Email newsletter signup

At the time, everything was in doubt. Austin head coach Jennifer Sims held a team meeting the following morning to clear things up and decide where a team that had also just graduated 13 seniors was going to be headed.

“We were thinking that the team could head in all sorts of directions,” she said. “We could use it to pull together or the opposite could happen. We really worked with the seniors to be a support network and continue to push forward. We felt like we had to be positive and rally them back together.”

While the Packers have just five seniors, Tyler Bramwell, Brandi Ruroden, Emily Johnson, Marni Surdy, and Katie Johnson, they stayed strong and kept the team in line — after they got over the initial shock.

“It was unbelievable when it happened,” Katie Johnson said. “It was like, ‘This can’t be real.’ I’ve danced with these girls every year, and it was hard.”

Every year the Austin dance team chooses its ‘theme’ for the season, and that theme is painted in the team’s practice facility. This year, the team’s theme was ‘programmed for purpose’ and Iron Man was chosen as the logo.

The accident helped the Packer girls find their purpose as they vowed to have a solid season for their teammates who would miss the season, and the motivation became even stronger when two of the girls who were in the accident — juniors Katelyn Joseph and Anissa Zynda — returned to the lineup.

“It’s great to be dancing with them and it’s great to know that (all five) are OK,” Ruroden said. “(Having just five seniors) brings us together, it’s not a senior team, it’s more like one united team. It’s brought us really close. All the girls have stepped up beyond expectations, and we can rely on any of our dancers.”

Joseph suffered six broken ribs and her lungs collapsed during the crash, but she went through therapy and was thrilled to get back with the team after sitting out early on.

She says she now understands the meaning of the saying, ‘What does not kill you makes you stronger.’

“I feel like I’ve worked twelve times harder than I have in the past and that’s not to say I didn’t work hard before,” she said. “I’m still struggling, but I’m getting there.”

Right after the crash, Joseph never thought she’d be dancing.

“My first thought through my head was I’m out this season,” she said. “It was really hard because I’d never missed a competition before. The first meet I had to sit out for was the hardest.”

Zynda didn’t have a lot of physical therapy to go through after the accident, but she could tell things weren’t quite the same when she was back in action.

“Every day in practice was a struggle, it wasn’t easy before but now it’s much harder than it ever was before,” she said. “(Getting back out there) made me feel like I overcame something and I’m stronger than anything that comes in my way because I can beat it.”

While Zynda and Joseph have been back on the dance floor, the other three girls in the accident have helped out at meets and practice.

Sims said that is important and she also said that this trip to state may be a little sweeter than some of the other ones due to the way her team has rallied together under duress.

“They are a young team and they’ve faced a lot. But those were hurdles to overcome, not roadblocks to stop them,” Sims said. “One of the reasons they pulled together so well is they were very selfless. They were dancing and training for each other. They wanted to make sure the other girls were proud of what they accomplished.”

Austin will compete in the Class ‘AA’ high kick portion of the state meet at the Target Center in Minneapolis Saturday at 2:15 p.m.

Sims is hoping her team can get to the top six, and if it does that, Austin will compete again at 7:15 p.m.