At her last ice dancing competition of the 2016 spring season, teenager Sadie Woodruff of North Canton captured No. 1 in the Midwest at her level.
The next day, Sadie lay in an ambulance speeding to Akron Children’s Hospital, with second-degree burns on both feet.
She and her younger sister had been making beignets in their kitchen when the oil caught fire. Their mother, Jennifer, tried to carry the pan outside, slipped and fell. Sadie stepped in the oil. Jennifer was burned on her legs, feet, her right arm and face.
Jennifer spent 23 days in Paul and Carol David Foundation Burn Institute at Akron Children’s, the regional burn center that treats adults as well as children.
Sadie’s injuries were not as severe, but she was hospitalized in the burn center for 5 days, dealing with pain, worrying about her mother and wondering about her future on the ice.
“I remember in the ambulance asking if I’d be able to skate again,” Sadie said. “It was definitely hard to be first in the Midwest and then not be able to walk the next day. But I tried not to think about what we didn’t know yet.”
Sadie fell in love with figure skating watching the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Her mother and father, Scott, went to the games, and Sadie would stay up late to watch
Meryl Davis and Charlie White, a popular tandem who would become the first U.S. ice dance gold medalists in 2014.
Sadie started figure skating at age 10, later than many competitive skaters. But she took to it quickly, and it wasn’t long before she was competing in national and regional contests.
After her injury, she recovered quickly but wrestled with doubts.
“It ran through my head the possibility of quitting. I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to do anything if I came back,” she said.
The toughest challenge would be jumps, a feature of freestyle skating she liked best and that she excelled at.
About a month after she left the hospital, Sadie laced up a pair of skates and went back on the ice.
“She was committed to doing things she wasn’t sure she would be able to do after her injury,” said Chris Martin, her skating coach. “Especially freestyle. When she lands on a jump, it’s probably four times her weight. That’s not easy on nerve endings that want to flair up.
“But I will tell you, she never complained about it to me.”
Sadie regained her competitive edge, but she turned more to ice dancing, a discipline of figure skating similar to ballroom dancing. Ice dancing didn’t hurt her feet, and it turned out she really liked it.
There were doubts whether she’d be able to compete in ice dancing nationals held 4 months after her injury. Not only did she compete, she placed 3rd in the National Solo Dance Final.
“She was having more struggles than she let on,” said Jennifer. “But she persevered. She bounced back quicker than anyone thought she would.”
Jennifer bounced back, too, after a long and painful recovery, including 6 months of physical therapy.
“Jennifer has done as well as anybody could have done,” said Dr. John Crow, chairman of the Department of Surgery and director of the burn center, which admits about 250 patients a year.
“She has completely recovered and is functional again. Her recovery has a lot to do with her and how hard she worked at it.”
Jennifer said that today, “I’m 110 percent.”
“I’m a better person because of these scars,” Jennifer said in a phone call from Kansas, where she was accompanying Sadie in a recent competition.
“I’m not going to let it define me. Things in life will knock you down. It’s how we respond to challenges put before us that makes the difference.
“We are all stronger people because of what happened.”
Sadie, a high school senior with her mother’s tenacity, has won over 100 medals. She works out on the ice 2 hours a day, 6 days a week, often driving more than an hour from North Canton to suburban Cleveland ice rinks, while taking college credit classes at Walsh University in Canton.
This year, she started synchronized skating, and already she has an eye on the nationals.
On a recent afternoon, the day before she left for sectionals in Kansas, she glided through routines with coach Martin at Lakewood’s Serpentini Arena.
The coach said Sadie has achieved much since the accident. But it hasn’t come easy.
“The best athletes are stubborn,” Martin said.
He gave Sadie a look and she smiled back.
“She needs to be stubborn. If she wasn’t, she wouldn’t be able to do what she’s done.”