Autumn VanSolkema finds both frustrations and victories while recovering from her injury


Autumn VanSolkema perseveres through her injury to continue doing the things she loves.

It’s pretty common for someone to find something—whether it is a sport, hobby, or any other pastime—that they really connect with, and want to continue doing. 

For sophomore Autumn Vansolkema, this thing was volleyball. What she didn’t expect was that two years later, she wouldn’t be playing it anymore. Although she adored the sport of volleyball, a few years into it, Autumn decided that the environment and community just weren’t meant for her anymore. 

So instead, she tried out for the cheer team as a freshman in high school. However, things didn’t go as smoothly as she had hoped. It all started at the cheer tryouts during her freshman year. 

Well, technically, it all started summer of 2016. 

“It’s genetically bad; my dad and his dad have had knee problems,” Autumn said. “So naturally, I had to have them, and then in 2016, I was running and [my knee] dislocated. Normally when someone dislocates their knee, it stays out, but whenever I bent [my leg], my [knee cap] would move in and out.”

Autumn lived with her knee like that for two whole years until another incident in 2018. She was jumping in a bounce house when her knee dislocated for a second time. Autumn had mentioned earlier that the first time her knee had dislocated, she hadn’t really noticed. This time, however, was quite the opposite. She even had to go to the ER to get her knee checked out. 

The doctors found that nothing could be done about it. At least, not until she was old enough to get a major procedure done on her knee to correct some of the issues in it. 

This takes us back to her freshman year cheerleading tryouts. Spoiler alert: she made the team, but at what cost?

“One reason that I wanted to get surgery as soon as possible was because of cheer tryouts in June,” Autumn said. “I was doing a running round-off and I landed funny, and my knee just completely [gave out from under me].”

Unfortunately, her newfound interest in cheerleading was not the only thing that suffered due to her injured knee. 

Autumn has always been passionate about musicals. From an early love of Broadway in New York to getting roles in school plays, she was hoping to continue to be able to continue her love of singing on stage into high school. 

“I was doing a musical at the same time,” Autumn said. “So I was [at rehearsal] in the morning for eight hours, and [my knee] always gets a little weird when I’m doing a lot on it. [Theatre] is something that I enjoy. I was [Vivienne in Legally Blond] in the same week I hurt my knee during tryouts, so for the performance, I had my knee brace on and I couldn’t do all the dance moves.”

Autumn had to give up a lot because of her issues with her knee. Aside from musicals, she also missed out on being able to do certain aspects of cheerleading. She can’t do any stunts, but the thing she misses most is the tumbling and gymnastics. Autumn said that she was remarkably close to getting certain skills, and now she can’t even work on them to try and improve.

She also had to forget, temporarily, about some of her goals and dreams. Autumn said that one thing she wanted to accomplish during her time in high school was becoming a dancer. But for the moment, that idea is unrealistic on account of her recent surgeries.  

It’s nice to know that when you’re struggling, people who care about you want to help you through it.

— Autumn VanSolkema

While everything that Autumn has had to give up on is certainly awful, there is always a silver lining to be found. For example, Autumn has found a new passion for different forms of art. 

“Last year, I took up painting,” Autumn said, “mainly because it doesn’t require movement. You can just sit and paint, so I liked doing that. Also reading, which is something that I’ve always done. I started doing diamond art this year, which is super fun.”

Her new hobbies are one of a few ways Autumn is staying busy during the long recovery process. 

According to her, it is going to be another five to seven months until she is fully healed, and she is viewing it as a long road to being able to be active again. However, the course of her recovery has been made significantly more enjoyable by her friends. 

“Aside from my actual leg, my recovery from surgery has been pretty nice,” Autumn said. “All my friends came over and hung out with me. We did different things. It’s nice to know that when you’re struggling, people who care about you want to help you through it. It was nice to see all the people who genuinely wanted to help make it a better experience for me.”

It seems that to her, the most important things to be able to do again once she is healed, are the most mundane. Whether it’s walking up the stairs, running to get to her classes on time, or even just moving without a limp, Autumn is excited to be able to function properly again, without the worry of her knee pain hindering any experience she has in her future. 

Throughout all of it, Autumn has continued with the thing she wanted to do the most: cheerleading. She has persevered through all of the injuries, surgeries, and frustrations that come with them, to be able to continue with the sport through next year, and many more to come. 

“I really love cheer because the community and the friendships that you gain from it are so strong,” Autumn said. “Whenever you gain a new skill or a new stunt, the whole team will cheer you on and congratulate you, and just lift you up. Cheer is such a bonding sport, and it has created such strong friendships between me and my teammates.”