Misty Copeland's Pointe Shoes

Misty Copeland

Courtesy of Under Armour/James Michelfelder

Misty Copeland dances with New York's American Ballet Theatre, one of the oldest and most prestigious classical ballet companies in the country. She is the third African American female soloist in its 74-year history--and the first in 20 years.

Copeland took her first ballet class at age 13 on a basketball court at the Boysand Girls Club in San Pedro, California.She is the club's National Youth of theYear Ambassador and, with ABT, launched Project Plie to introduce kids from diversebackgrounds to ballet and to offer young dancers training and support. She recently debuted as a writer with her memoir, Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina (Touchstone), and her children's book, Firebird (Putnam), comes out in September. 

Wherever life takes her next, Copeland will be carrying her pointe shoes.

Ballerina Misty Copeland's pointe shoes go everywhere with her, even on vacation.  |  Photo Courtesy of Misty Copeland

In October 2012, I had surgery on my left leg, which was a big decision to make at that point in my career. I had a plate screwed into my tibia for six stress fractures, three of which were dreaded black-line fractures--they're almost full breaks. It was intense recovering from that, having a foreign object in my body. I didn't know when I was going to start dancing again. 

By winter, I had spent so much time cooped up in my apartment, just constantly thinking about recovery and physical therapy. So my boyfriend and I decided last minute to get away and go somewhere sunny. We booked a trip to the island of Vieques in Puerto Rico. 

Whenever I travel--and people think I'm really crazy for doing this--I always bring a pair of pointe shoes with me. I go to the gym or the fitness center and build myself a ballet barre, because that's the only area where I can really spread my wings. I brought my shoes on this trip, and I still did a little ballet class. 

The night before our last day, I got a call from my doctor in New York. He said, "We thought the progress of your leg was going well, but we're not really sure. When you get back to New York, we may do another surgery."

It stopped me and my boyfriend dead in our tracks: Oh my god. We're on vacation and we get this awful news. I remember crying at the pool. 

That night we decided to go to Bioluminescent Bay. We get in this shabby little van that looks like it belongs in a Scooby-Doo cartoon--it's really sketchy, and we're with all these random people, then we're trekking through mud and trees, and we end up at the bay.

The guide tells us this bay is supposed to have all of these vitamins and things that can help heal. So we get into a little rowboat, and when you swipe your hands through the water, it lights up and it glows. I remember sticking my leg in the water and just saying, "Heal me. Heal me." I was pouring this water all over my leg, where I had the plates in my shin. It was the most amazing experience I've had on a vacation. Almost spiritual.

I got back to New York the next day and visited my doctor. He did an X-ray and said, "Everything's healing the way we want it to. There's nothing wrong. You just have to move forward." It was kind of shocking. It was like, "OK, here we go."

The next week I went into ABT and started dancing again. I don't know what role, if any, Bioluminescent Bay had to play in that, but that's something I cherish about that trip. 

It will stay with me forever.

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