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Paraplegic teen a danceline star

Free Press of Mankato  Minnesota

When Nicole Deegan starts dancing during basketball halftimes, it's not uncommon for spectators to do a double take then a triple take when she really gets going.

The Mankato Loyola junior holds a rare, perhaps unique, distinction as a high school danceline member: She's paralyzed from the waist down.

"When I heard she was coming out for danceline, I thought, 'Huh?' I was kind of like, 'What can she really do?' " said team co-captain Laura Murray who, like everyone else who has seen Deegan perform, became a quick believer.

"It's really amazing," Murray said. "She does everything."

As far as Deegan is concerned, she expects nothing less of herself, despite the obvious challenge of performing disabled with ambulatory teammates.

"I really love dancing," she said. "I just keep my head high up and keep dancing. I want other people to be encouraged to see what can be done."

When Deegan was 13, a homemade swing set collapsed on her, breaking her back.

She spent three months in a hospital, and when she was discharged she made a beeline back to her dance studio.

"The instructors were really happy I came back."

Crusaders coach Courtney Nusser said she had known of Deegan's story before Deegan came to Loyola.

"I'd get frustrated when I played high school sports, and sometimes everyone didn't want to give their full effort," Nusser said. "But then you look at a girl like 'Coley' and you go, 'Wow.' "

Loyola students and faculty first got a look at Deegan's dancing skills during a school talent show, when her solo act included popping out of her wheelchair, performing moves on the floor, then seamlessly hoisting herself back on board.

And as a capper, she did wheelies.

"People were just speechless," Murray said.

Although danceline is an official Minnesota State High School League competitive sport, the Loyola squad has performed only in exhibition.

However, it has a judged competition scheduled with Waterville-Elysian-Morristown, and Nusser said the particulars of scoring a competition with this unique circumstance have yet to be worked out.

Meanwhile, Deegan said she's enjoying doing what she loves and already is thinking about dancing with a college squad in a couple of years.

"Everyone is just so supportive," she said.

That includes, she adds, her snow ski instructors.

Yes, she's doing that too, using specially made skis with a seat.

"Now they're training me to go down the hill by myself," she said.

After that? Slalom moves.

Posted on Sun, Feb. 18, 2007 Free Press of Mankato, Minnesota

Permission to post requested by Paralinks; a not-for-profit grassroots community electronic magazine dedicated to Spinal Cord Injury information & Directory.