Christen Perrella, owner of Meta, interviews MJ as she shares her story about recovery from a tragic accident and the role Pilates has played in her healing journey. Pilates is movement system that heals and Meta strives to bridge movement, community, and mindset to provide its clients with a healing sanctuary.
Q: MJ, I’m trying to remember the first time I met you! All I know is that every time I walked into Level Spa to get my haircut I saw your huge smile and awesome personality. In fact, it was probably years before I realized that you were dealing with back pain, because certainly no one would ever guess everything you’ve been through. Can you tell us your story?
A: It was the fall of 1996, I was a junior at Milton High School, our softball team was about to go to the state tournament in a week, and we were heading out to the Milton v. Roswell game on a Friday night. The game ended with a Milton victory for the first time in years! With all the excitement we jumped in the back of a truck and headed back to Milton to meet up with everyone to celebrate.
The next thing I remember….
I was asked if I could feel my feet. I don’t remember responding and at some point heard someone scream. At North Fulton Hospital my parents learned that I had a broken collarbone, a broken shoulder blade, three crushed vertebrae, and a long road of recovery ahead of me. Not long after, I was transferred to Shepherd Spinal Center for surgery and a 6 week rehabilitation program.
Q: How did you keep a positive mindset?
A: No one ever told me that I wouldn’t walk again, so I always kept that in the back of mind as motivation to work harder. My parents were such an amazing support system. I could never in this lifetime repay them for all their love and strength- they never left my side. Friends were always in and out of visiting while I was in the hospital. My room was always covered in balloons and flowers, and the walls were covered with cards and polaroids of everyone who visited. The staff and patients at Shepherd were also amazing and supportive and It became a second home for us.
Q: What are some of the toughest moments that you overcame?
A: The toughest moments were having to accept the fact that I had to rebuild my strength from what felt like nothing and learn how to walk again. I remember only being able to bench press a broomstick, where just weeks ago I could lift heavy weights.
I returned to school in January, but it was only two hours a day since I couldn’t sit that long. When softball season came along my senior year, I pitched, but I could only run at half speed which meant a lot of time on the bench. It was probably one of the most depressing times of my life- there were a lot of tears that year.
I continued playing competitive softball for years as I got more mobility, but things were never the same . In my late 20’s some friends started an adult co-Ed softball team and obviously I was out there. I played for a few years and one game, while running home, I got hit on the spine from a throw home to get me out (he didn’t get me out, by the way). Even though it knocked me to the ground, I crawled to the base before they got the ball. ;) That game ended with an MRI and a cracked vertebrae. And well, I guess it healed on its own. Lol. After this I think I played a few more games, but I haven’t been back on the field since, beginning a very inactive time in my life.
Q: How did you finally make the decision to try Pilates?
A: I was scared to go to a regular gym or any large group exercise setting for fear of hurting myself. I was never able to do yoga, since it just didn’t appeal to me. I felt like I couldn’t do it. I was comforted talking to you about Pilates and your own healing experience with your back. The small studio, small group setting, and personalized attention was the selling point. Pilates completely met me exactly where my body was and I felt successful.
Q: How did you feel after your first session?
A: I remember immediately wanting to come back for more, and I learned things that changed the way I moved, just from that first week.
Q: I remember the first time you were able to sit up straight without sitting on a box. It is hard for me not to get emotional thinking about those moments! How did that make you feel? What other moments in your Pilates journey have made you feel safe and empowered?
A: Each visit holds some sort of progress. Persistence is important and that is what I tend to struggle with, but Pilates has kept me motivated to stay on course as much as I can.
Q: What would you say sets Pilates apart now, since your 1 year anniversary was just a couple weeks ago?
A: Pilates instructors watch and listen to every detail of every inch of your body, and I have learned so much about my own body that I will carry with me my whole life.
Q: How has Meta gone above and beyond a typical gym?
A: Christen knows what I need even if I don’t know what my body needs. She listened to the needs of my body whether its strength and or cardio, and she even met me at a gym to help me push more limits!
Q: What would you say to someone who is struggling with pain but nervous about starting an exercise program? Can you share some of your hope and encouragement for them.
A: Start small! Starting big can be overwhelming and you’ll get lost in all the hype. Find where you are comfortable and then push yourself to do better.