EDMOND — Jessica Matallana will get closer to her dream of becoming a physical therapist when she starts college as a freshman in the fall at the University of Central Oklahoma. But the Piedmont High School graduate took her first steps toward that career years ago in a dance studio — a move that has earned her a national scholarship.
Shane Co., the largest privately held jeweler in the United States, recently named Matallana the overall winner of its inaugural “Creativity in Action” scholarship contest. Matallana’s scholarship, worth $5,000, was reserved for a student displaying academic achievement and demonstrating how creativity could play a part in career aspirations.
In her winning essay, Matallana described the creativity involved in dance, her personal struggle with an injury, and how her aspirations for a career in physical therapy were born from both.
From an early age, Matallana had a persistent pain in a bone in her left foot that plagued the young dancer. She delayed surgeries, concerned that complications could permanently end her career, and opted to dance through the pain.
In 2013, Matallana relented and consented to a procedure. Doctors shaved the troublesome bone in hopes it would ease her pain. It didn’t, and another surgery followed, breaking the same bone so it could heal correctly.
“After multiple surgeries and meeting with six or seven doctors, one finally told me, ‘Just stop dancing,’” Matallana said.
“But he might as well have told me to stop breathing. I could never just stop dancing.”
After the second surgery, Matallana spent weeks in a wheelchair, then in a cast and on crutches, all the while working with a physical therapist.
Matallana says that rehabilitation experience helped her understand physical therapy isn’t just for the body, but also for the mind. And that experience pushed her toward a career in physical therapy.
“Going through what I’ve gone through, I want to work as a physical therapist to help people overcome their pain, and to help them believe that they can overcome it,” Matallana said.
“Having someone tell you, ‘You can do this,’ or ‘You can take that step,’ and really believing in you, it makes a difference.”
Matallana, who says she chose UCO for its reputation and tightly knit campus community, is looking forward to getting involved on campus and making new friends. Still rehabbing from her most recent surgery, Matallana believes there is more dancing in her future — she’s just not yet sure of when.
Lindsay Houts is a staff writer with UCO University Relations.