ATHLETE’S CORNER: HAPPY FEET

Samantha Rutherford

Since the late 1800’s, the syncopated, mesmerizing sounds of brush steps, back flaps and heel clicks have echoed through halls, theatres and dance studios. To some, tap dancing might seem like a quaint, old fashioned art form that saw its heyday when Shirley Temple, Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly graced the silver screen. But don’t tell that to Samantha (Sammy) Rutherford.

“There are so many tricks you have to learn to perfect. And you have to make it look easy when you are working really hard,” enthuses Sammy. The 13-year-old from Aurora, ON has been practising tap since she was in kindergarten.While she also studies ballet, jazz, lyrical, musical theatre and modern dance, tap dancing is by far and away her favourite style.

And now, Sammy has tapped her way onto the Team Canada junior dance team, one of three Canadian teams which are headed to the World Tap Championships in Riesa, Germany in December.

“It’s one of my proudest moments,” she says. At her audition in April, she had to beat out dozens of other 12-15-year-old competitors by demonstrating steps, learning and dancing a choreographed routine on the spot and improvising in front of a panel of judges. “It can take two or more tries to make it,” she explains. “I never expected to get on the team, for which I’m even more grateful.”

For the four months leading up to the competition, her team will meet six times around the Toronto region for 4-hour rehearsals. Sammy will continue to dance at her home studio, the Somerville Dance Academy, four times a week, 2-3 hours an evening.

Besides being a talented dancer, Sammy is also a gifted pianist and singer, and writes fictional stories in her spare time. “I love being on stage,” admits Sammy. “I like the attention. I feel the adrenaline. And I have a lot of fun.” Indeed, show business seems to run in the Rutherford DNA: Sammy’s grandmother, Dorothy Bromby, was a celebrated performer, organist and recording artist, and Sammy’s mom Sandy, who grew up backstage, today works in musical theatre. Older siblings Cayleigh and Greg also dance competitively.

Sammy’s artistic accomplishments are all the more remarkable given that she lives with Raynaud’s disease, a condition in which blood vessels in the hands and feet overreact to cold temperatures or stress, severely limiting blood flow. Symptoms can appear at any time: when she’s dancing on stage, jogging around her neighbourhood or when she’s stressed. Her dance studio keeps warm rice bags on hand for her to bring warmth and feeling back to her extremities.

Sammy also hasn’t let Type 1 diabetes limit her in any way. Diagnosed in 2009, she was initially misdiagnosed with Celiac disease when she tested mildly positive for the condition. A year of gluten-free eating didn’t improve Sammy’s health, and she started exhibiting more obvious symptoms of diabetes.

Today, Sammy has adjusted well to living with diabetes and Raynaud’s disease, and says that her OneTouch Ping® pump makes being active much easier. She loves the bright screen, as well as the remote bolus feature. Her network of teachers and friends are also supportive and understanding.

Reflecting on where dance has taken her, Sammy sounds mature beyond her 13 years. “There have been a few points along this journey where I’ve been frustrated,” she says. “But then I realize I was just getting frustrated over myself. I’m so thankful for what I have. Dancing has opened so many doors for me.”