AUGUSTA — Anna Curtis is determined, driven and defiant in the face of doubters.
Tell the 14-year-old Vassalboro gymnast she can’t do something and, well, she’ll set out to prove you wrong.
“I’ve always loved gymnastics,” said Curtis. “And I always will.”
She isn’t afraid of falling and can shake off an imperfect routine with relative ease. She also isn’t deterred by the pair of titanium rods and 28 screws that were surgically implanted in her back about seven months ago.
Curtis, an eighth-grader at Vassalboro Community School, was diagnosed with Scoliosis — an abnormal curvature of the spine — last May after her coaches at Maine-ly Gymnastics urged her to get checked out.
On Oct. 2, she reluctantly underwent a seven-hour procedure to straighten the back. Her doctors told her the operation would likely prevent her from competing in gymnastics again.
“They said I couldn’t,” Curtis said, “and I said, ‘Watch me.’ “
Four months after surgery, Curtis defied the odds and returned to the mat and began competing at the Silver Xcel level, which coach Carol Evans says is equivalent to about a Level 5 or 6 as defined by USA Gymnastics.
Last weekend, Curtis capped her comeback by winning an all-around title at the New England championships at Kents Hill.
“She is one of the strongest kids I have ever met,” Evans said. “Just her determination. She said she was coming back, and she did. She said she was going to be her own success story and she is. She is an inspiration.”
It hasn’t been easy.
Curtis, an eighth-grader at Vassalboro Community School, started gymnastics when she was 4 years old. She trained for several years before deciding to take some time off.
“She wanted to play school sports,” Anna’s father, Keith Curtis said, “but then she wanted to come back.”
In September 2011, Anna Curtis came back to Maine-ly Gymnastics, which Delani Adams owns.
“All of a sudden, this was what she wanted to do,” Anna’s mother, Karen Curtis, said.
Curtis split time between training at Maine-ly Gymnastics and Decal Gymnastics in Waterville, which Evans runs.
Then, in May, one of Curtis’ coaches noticed something about the teen’s back.
“We had a new coach helping out and she asked Anna, ‘Why does your shoulder blade stick out?’ ” said Adams, who is Evans’ daughter. “She told her that she should get it checked out.”
She did, and the results surprised the family.
“She went for 13-year-old checkup last May and was diagnosed with Scoliosis, which was a real surprise,” Karen Curtis said. “We didn’t know. We though she just slouched a little bit, like kids do. We found out she had Scoliosis and it was pretty severe. They told her said she probably wouldn’t be able to do gymnastics after she had the surgery. She passed out when they told her.”
The X-rays and MRIs revealed Anna Curtis had a 53-degree curve at the top of her back. The bottom curve was 43 degrees.
“It was pretty severe,” Karen Curtis said. “It progresses 10 degrees every six months, too. The doctors didn’t want to wait.”
However, Curtis did.
“I didn’t want to do it because I wanted to keep doing gymnastics,” she said.
Curtis continued strengthening her back in advance of the October surgery at Maine Medical Center in Portland.
The surgery was a success.
“She was in the hospital five days,” Karen Curtis said. “Three days after she was home she was back in the gym. She would just go and watch and be a good teammate. The doctors said that she could do any other sport but she didn’t want to do anything else. She was determined. She was supposed to be out six months but she begged to come back in four. On Feb. 1, she came back to gymnastics.”
Curtis’ coaches didn’t know what to expect when she returned.
Would she be able to handle the routines? Would there be limitations? Would she want to compete again?
“Our fear was that we didn’t want her to do anything that would hurt her,” Evans said. “Your body learns how to absorb a fall, but she literally can’t just bend down and roll. She would just pancake. She wasn’t allowed to do too much at first but then she started progressing. After four months, she could pretty much do what she wanted.”
Curtis won the Xcel Silver all-around title at the state championships on April 21 in Old Town. She then followed that up with her triumph at New Englands, which drew competitors from Maine to New York.
Curtis fell off the beam twice at the competition before responding with big scores in the other events to win the title.
“I fell off the beam twice, but I thought, ‘Whatever, I’ll do good in the other things.’ “
Curtis said she plans to continue competing throughout high school, where she’ll continue to write her success story.
“I feel the same as I did before,” she said. “I was a little nervous at first but I’m not now.”
Bill Stewart — 621-5640