By Ryan Kaczmarski
Westlake High School senior Courteney Belmonte is a person who has overcome great adversity in her life to excel in the sport of competitive cheerleading.
On Thursday, Belmonte was recognized by the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission for her personal courage in overcoming corrective surgery for scoliosis, and returning to a high level of competition, and was awarded the Cleveland Clinic Sports Health Courage Award.
“At first, I really felt that I didn’t deserve (the award),” Belmonte said. “I looked it up online, and saw that many of the previous recipients had terminal illnesses.
“I told my mom that I can’t accept this award, but I was told that this is the exact kind of story the commission was looking for, and that’s when I started getting excited about it.”
Belmonte has been a competitive cheerleader since the age of 4, and she has lived her life tumbling, twisting and flying through the air. Her passion was nearly shattered when she was diagnosed with scoliosis at the age of 14 (in 2008), as the condition threatened Belmonte’s physical well being and way of life.
“When I first found out about (the condition), I was heart-broken,” she explained. “I was thinking to myself, that this was the end of my competitive career.
“I was thinking that I need to have surgery, and what comes next?”
Even after an extensive corrective procedure, performed by Dr. Ryan Goodwin, pediatric orthopedic surgeon at The Cleveland Clinic, her prospects of returning to cheerleading were unknown at best. The surgery required Dr. Goodwin to fuse the bones of the spine together with the help of bone grafts and metallic implants. Belmonte was restricted to little or no physical activity, but she displayed an amazing amount of courage and was back on the mat in less than a year.
“After six months, I was told I could go back to competing, and that was the best thing I was ever told in my entire life,” Belmonte said. “The first time I was told to walk (after the surgery), I was really frustrated. Once I finally felt comfortable, I was told I had to move, and nearly started crying.
“I just wanted to get out of the hospital and go home, without having to go do my rehab.”
Even with the early trepidation, Belmonte rehabbed quickly and was able to start training within three months of the surgery.
“I kept being told, ‘Courteney, stop doing this, stop doing that … ,’” she explained. “I was constantly just doing things because I felt OK, and I did it yesterday, so I’ll do it again today and push myself a little farther.
“After six months, Dr. Goodwin gave me full clearance to return to competitive training.”
Belmonte cheers for Westlake High School, but does her competitive cheerleading through the Northcoast All-Stars, in Berea. She stated that she could not have been in place to receive the award without the support of her teammates, parents and the help of her three sisters and younger brother, Antonio.
“My brother is my favorite person in the entire world,” she said. “He is just so considerate of my needs. If I’m trying to lift something heavy, he just tells me let him do it, so I don’t hurt my back.
“Everyone in my family was very helpful through the entire ordeal, but my brother seems to be always watching out for me and my back.”