South Dakota State University's Independent Student-Run Newspaper Since 1885

The Collegian

South Dakota State University's Independent Student-Run Newspaper Since 1885

The Collegian

South Dakota State University's Independent Student-Run Newspaper Since 1885

The Collegian

‘A Long Journey… But I’m Getting There’

Cheerleader who lost leg works to get back on field

SDSU cheerleader Brianna DeMarais could have quit last October when at age 19 she had part of her right leg amputated.

But those who know the determined junior from Sioux Falls probably knew that wasn’t likely to be DeMarais’ next move.

“No, never,” she said when asked if she thought about quitting after doctors took off part of her leg just below the knee. “I was very determined to get back. I called my coaches immediately and then told them that I would be back.”

DeMarais is working to get back on the field and cheerleading in September. She won’t be cheering at this week’s football game as South Dakota State hosts Western Oregon at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium on Thursday at 7 p.m. But she will be there, supporting her teammates, just as they have supported her.

“It’s been a long journey since my surgery and certain things I have had to relearn how to do, but I’m getting there,” said DeMarais, a junior early childhood education major who loves babysitting for her neighbors and her baby niece.

She has attended cheerleading team functions in her wheelchair and participated by doing the motions with her arms. Now that she has her prosthetic, she says it will be easier to get completely back into cheer.

DeMarais’ ordeal began at the end of her freshman year. Injuries to her right foot resulted in her compensating for the pain with her left foot when tumbling during cheerleading practice. Even though she was in pain she still wanted to do the thing she loved most — cheer. So, she pushed through the pain.

 Soon enough these injuries seemed healed, but into the second week of her sophomore year, DeMarais’ right foot began to feel cold and numb. She tried various treatments including prescriptions to restore feeling and warmth in her foot but nothing seemed to help much. 

With her condition worsening, doctors began doing tests and various procedures to restore blood flow. Eventually, two blood clots were determined as the cause of the numbness and coldness. 

An emergency procedure was performed to remove the blood clots but DeMarais was still experiencing the worrisome symptoms. This is when doctors decided to amputate part of her right leg to prevent whatever was happening to spread to the rest of her leg. 

DeMarais’ underwent surgery last Oct. 5. 

DeMarais’ father, Bob, said he knew the surgery would bring massive change for his daughter. But the family has adapted and he, his wife and Brianna’s siblings have all devoted themselves to helping. 

“From the time we found out that there were no other options, the whole family was basically just in shock, kind of disbelief,” Bob said. “But we all knew that we were going to be able to pull together as a family and do whatever we needed to do to make this thing happen.”

The DeMaraises say they are thankful for the support offered to Brianna by friends, coaches, teammates and the wider community. Her cheerleading team at SDSU sent her videos of them praying and rooting for her while she was in the hospital. The team also started a gofundme page that helped the family with expenses.

The surgery has changed Brianna’s life and daily routine. Most of her setbacks were due to her falling, but she always gets back up. The hardest part, she says, is having to relearn everything she would naturally do, but this time using crutches or a wheelchair. Another issue is that she has to remember that she doesn’t have a right foot.

“After surgery you still have either a phantom pain or phantom limb, which is the way you felt before your leg was amputated,” Brianna said. “So, I was feeling a lot of numbness after my amputation and I still do feel numbness which makes me think my foot is there but it’s actually not.” 

Brianna was inspired to start cheerleading by her two older sisters, Kaitlyn and Kristina, who were also Jackrabbit cheerleaders. She said she chose SDSU because many family members attended, but also because he knew wherever she ended up, she was going to be a cheerleader.”

Brianna was the kind of kid who would make up a whole routine with friends and then sit the whole family down to put on a show, her sister Kaitlyn said. And even though the sisters are several years apart in age, they bonded over cheerleading.

Now, post-operation, Kaitlyn said the family tries to make each day as normal as possible for Brianna.

“But with Brianna’s attitude, she’s almost made it easy for everyone else because she’s been so positive about everything,” Kaitlyn said.

Both Bob and Kaitlyn said they don’t think the events of the past year have changed Brianna as a person. They also say that despite the physical rigors that cheerleading requires, they aren’t too worried about Brianna’s safety. 

“The coaching and the safety at the (Division I) level just keep getting better every year,” Bob said. “… I’ve always been pretty confident about that.”

Kaitlyn said: “I think it will be difficult in the beginning, but I think with the team being behind her and supporting her the way they have been, there’s not much to worry about.”

As it is, Brianna has had her prosthetic for only about a week and she has already adjusted well to walking. Bob says that he was “blown away” following her therapy session as she walked by him. 

As he reflects on the past year, Bob says he is impressed with how committed his daughter is to her sport.

 “For her to have this life-changing experience and still be able to do it (cheerleading) at a high level is amazing,” Bob said. “I can’t be more proud of her.” 

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    Coralee de AlmeidaAug 30, 2023 at 9:41 am

    Inspirational story, well written aswell.