By Anita Nham, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
PARK, Pa. -- Every year, the NCAA Regionals is an opportunity for collegiate
women's gymnastics team to compete and try to advance to the national
championships. This is also the time for collegiate gymnasts, who have been
training day-in and day-out for their entire lives, to make a statement on each
event, in order to fight for a chance to compete at nationals.
for senior Emma Sibson, during the 2017 NCAA Regionals, her main focus was not
about earning the highest score. She was simply happy to have one final
opportunity to compete in gymnastics as a Nittany Lion.
was diagnosed with lupus on January 9, 2017, just two days after the Penn
State's women's gymnastics team's first competition of the season, a victory in
a quad meet against Bowling Green, BYU and Temple. It was the first appearance
for Sibson since February 6, 2016, during her junior season. In her return,
Sibson competed on vault and earned a score of 9.725.
is a chronic inflammatory disease that occurs when a person's immune system
attacks his or her own tissues, organs, joints or skin. The autoantibodies that
attack and destroy the healthy tissue can cause inflammation, pain and damage
in various parts of the body. The most common signs of lupus include: fatigue
and fever, joint pain and stiffness, butterfly-shaped rash on the face, chest
pain, and shortness of breath.
her junior year (2015-16), the Allen, Texas native experienced rashes and
fatigue and some of her hair started to fall out. Doctors tested her thyroid
and they put her on thyroid medication, but that wasn't the problem.
March of junior year, I started having Raynaud's disease, [disorder where some
areas of the body, like hands or feet, turn white and go numb, in response to
cold temperatures or stress], hives, rashes, severe fatigue, and mouth and
tongue ulcers," Sibson said.
March 2016, Sibson's mother, who is a nurse, was the first person that
suggested lupus after she received a picture of a butterfly-shaped rash on her
past fall, she was tested for food allergies and her results came back positive
for most of the foods she ate in her everyday diet. She also began to get
fevers and her joints started to ache.
I felt I could not walk up a flight of stairs," Sibson said.
mother came to the conclusion in December 2016 that Sibson needed to be checked
for autoimmune disorders and the results came back positive for lupus.
first reaction was that at least I now know exactly what is wrong with
me," Sibson said. "I went to see a rheumatologist in January who
confirmed the diagnosis. He started me on medications to treat the flares that
I had been having for quite some time."
was relieved to have confirmation of her condition. Her initial concern was not
about getting better though; she was worried about not being able to compete in
gymnastics in her final season.
doctor gave her the go-ahead to continue practicing gymnastics as long as she
felt okay. The coaches also made sure she was well rested in between events.
Sibson returned to the line-up on February 4 against Michigan State to compete
on vault and she finished in second with a season-best score of 9.850.
a week later, during the Ohio State meet, Sibson started to feel severe chest
pain after the floor routine and knew there was more to her condition.
saw the cardiologist who diagnosed pericarditis [a swelling and irritation of
the thin sac-like membrane surrounding the heart], associated with my
lupus," Sibson said. "They put me on more medicine and said I could
not do anything until I had a stress test. After the test, I was told I could not
do anything that elevated my heart rate."
appeared Sibson was out for the rest of the season. She was not able to compete
in five meets, including the senior meet against Pittsburgh, the B1G Five
Qualifier and the Big Ten Championships.
wasn't healthy enough to compete, but I think you can never have enough people
on the sidelines, cheering you on or helping you out," Sibson said.
"I was very grateful that I was healthy enough to still travel,
participate and be able to cheer on the girls."
was her senior season, though. She didn't want her gymnastics career to end.
She wanted to have a chance to demonstrate her gymnastics skills one final
didn't think I would be able to return, but surprisingly, I competed in vault
[at the NCAA Regionals]," Sibson said. "It was very exciting [to find
out I was able to compete]. I called the cardiologist on my own. I told him I
had been feeling better, no chest pain. I just asked, 'Can I please just
compete? This meet? Just on vault?', and he said I could with the stipulation
that I was monitored closely and promised that I would stop if I had any chest
pain. I had just a few practices to get back into shape enough to vault, but
that was enough for me."
consulting with coaches Kera Molinaro and Josh Nilson, at the NCAA Gainesville
Regional on April 1, Sibson tied for 11th on vault with a 9.825 in front of
thought that she was going to be done with the sport, and to have a second
chance, which was amazing for her diagnosis, she was really excited about the
opportunity," Molinaro said.
was extremely grateful for the opportunity, but she officially knew that it
would be her last competitive meet.
day after arriving back from regionals, I was in the emergency room with severe
chest pain, but it was different than the one with my heart," Sibson said.
"I now have pleurisy (inflammation of the tissues that line the lungs and
chest cavity), which is also associated with lupus, and was started on
steroids. Three days later, I had a kidney biopsy which shows that lupus has
caused inflammation in my kidneys, so I was started on a medicine that will
suppress my immune system."
senior is recovering and feeling better after getting her recent medications.
She is focusing on the last couple of weeks of school, trying to catch up on
work and hoping there are no setbacks for graduation.
I do not think you ever truly adapt to having lupus," Sibson said.
"It is something you will fight your entire life. Some days, you might
even forget you have lupus, and some days will be the harder days when you
might spend up to a week in the hospital or adding another medication to your
already numerous prescription pills in one day. I think that's the scariest
thing. You never know what the next day has in store for you when living with
lupus. I think that is something you will never truly adapt to."
since starting gymnastics when she was four years old, Sibson has practiced
with Olympians like Nastia Liukin, competed on a collegiate team, earned Big
Ten Freshman of the Week twice, captured numerous event titles, and much more.
had so many [memories]," Sibson said. "I think just having the
opportunity to compete for a collegiate team and Penn State is the best. It's
an amazing school, and although it's so big, it's like one big family. In
general, my time here has been an amazing experience."
graduation, her main goal is to regulate medications and get better. She
is also excited to be getting a puppy, and one day, she hopes to become a
collegiate gymnastics coach. Nonetheless, she wants everyone to understand and
spread awareness about lupus.
I want people to know from my story is that lupus is a real disease and can be
debilitating during a flare," Sibson said. "I wish that everyone who
has symptoms seeks out the care they need. Do not let someone dismiss your
symptoms. To those who have family, friends, teammates or co-workers with
lupus, try to be supportive and understanding. Suggesting they would make
up these symptoms to get out of work, school or normal life is plain
ridiculous. Remember they can be "healthy" and then without much warning
be in a flare causing a wide variety of symptoms. For those with Lupus,
especially young people, get up and get going every day. Sometimes, it is
really hard, I know, but [it's possible]."
is Lupus Awareness Month, and though treatment for the symptoms have improved,
there is no known cure for lupus.
learn more about lupus or to donate to help find a cure, visit the website for
Foundation of America.