A return to cheer is anything but routine for South Dakota State junior Brianna DeMarais.
“It was very emotional I think because so many people came here to support me,” said DeMarais, back on the sidelines at a December Jackrabbit men’s basketball game in Brookings, South Dakota.
“This has been my goal. I wanted to cheer. I still am not where I want to be. I really want to do better but I’m really proud I got to this point.”
Like a motivating chant, DeMarais’ seemingly endless positivity is finally lifting her to cherished heights.
First, a setback
More than a year earlier, her comeback story started from scratch.
“Everybody at Sanford has helped so much,” said DeMarais, undergoing physical therapy at the Van Demark building in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. “I’m grateful literally for all of them.”
A rare condition impacting her right leg led to a life-altering diagnosis at the beginning of sophomore year in 2022.
“When school started, it was like the second week, I had blood clots in my right ankle,” DeMarais said. “It just kept getting worse and worse. The doctors, they tried everything to help save my foot, but it just didn’t work.”
To stop the spread, DeMarais, 19 at the time, needed amputation.
“I cried. It was shocking. Early on (the doctor) did tell me that I could end up getting an amputation, but I just didn’t really process that in my head. Didn’t think that would ever happen. I was like, no that’s not going to happen. It’s going to be fine,” DeMarais said.
DeMarais’ parents, longtime Sanford Health employees in Sioux Falls, found the situation stunning.
“When we found this out, we were in complete shock,” said Bob DeMarais, a Sanford Health Equip manager. “You just never think it’s going to happen to you or anything like this can possibly happen to you or your family until it does.
“Words can’t even express how proud I am of her.”
Prosthetic leg arrives
After patiently waiting to heal enough for a prosthetic, Brianna DeMarais proudly showed off her new leg in August of 2023.
“It feels really good because I’ve been waiting for 11 months now. So finally getting to this point, I’m so excited because I can’t wait for things ahead,” she said.
“Brianna received a prosthesis approximately a week ago,” Sanford physical therapist Brian Iverson said. “So we’ve been just working on progressing her walking so that she can regain her independence with walking and walk at a normal speed and resume her activities.”
Wasting no time, the cheer athlete began stepping it out at a rapid pace.
“Brian is so amazing. He has helped me through a lot of this process. He believes in me. Just his spirit also helps me because I want to do all that stuff,” Brianna DeMarais said regarding walking, running and cheer.
Bob DeMarais added, “I honestly don’t know how she’s done it but she’s doing it. All of a sudden she walked around the corner and I could not believe how dialed in they had it.”
‘Sky’s the limit’
Physical therapy at Sanford’s main campus soon sprinted to the Sanford Fieldhouse.
“Sky’s the limit. She can do whatever she wants to do,” Iverson said.
An anti-gravity treadmill at the fieldhouse is helping Brianna DeMarais regain balance and strength.
“It feels like you’re in an inflatable. It’s cool because I’m getting used to more of the spring of my foot,” she said.
Iverson points out, “she went to 3.9 mph, which is a nice jog for her. We also increased the amount of weight that she puts through her foot. And we’re going to keep progressing.”
Progressing with a prosthetic takes considerable tinkering and a determined patient.
“You want to keep on going and do things normally. I want to inspire others. Just being positive throughout the whole process,” Brianna DeMarais said. “I’m working towards to get back on the field to cheer.”
‘Never give up on your dream’
A carrot she’d reach recently on Dec. 14 at a Jackrabbits basketball game.
“This will be my first time trying stuff so hopefully it will go good,” Brianna DeMarais said. “I love cheering, and I love cheering with everyone that’s around me.
“I’m excited. I’ve been waiting for this for a long time and I’m so excited.”
Hopping back on the sidelines with all the emotions.
“I’m just so thankful for everyone who’s supported me throughout this journey,” Brianna DeMarais said.
Watching from the stands, her mom Shelley DeMarais couldn’t believe what she was seeing.
“I cried the first time during the school song, the first one. Very proud. She’s worked hard to get here,” said Shelley DeMarais, a Sanford applications support analyst.
“Extremely proud. Been waiting for this day for a little while. I was pretty shocked to see that she could do almost what she had done previously.”
Beaming from being back, Brianna DeMarais said, “I want everyone to know never give up on your dream or your goal even though you might have some hard times, challenges, setbacks. Just never give up.”
Brianna DeMarais never did and now, the Jackrabbit junior is courting new dreams and opportunities.
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