Joburg woman ranked world number 1 in aerial sports after remarkable recovery from spinal injury

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 Aerial pole athlete Kaitlin Rawson injured her neck and spine in a freak accident. She had to relearn to walk.
Aerial pole athlete Kaitlin Rawson injured her neck and spine in a freak accident. She had to relearn to walk.
  • Kaitlin Rawson fell off poles during practice and injured her neck and spine.
  • She had to relearn to walk. 
  • Five months after her injury, she went back to the sport and is now ranked number one in her category.

Six years after falling and breaking her back during training, Kaitlin Rawson has not only made a remarkable recovery but is now ranked world number one in pole and aerial sports.  

Rawson and her mother, Debbie, took part in pole and aerial sports to bond. The two went to a studio in Johannesburg that offered aerial yoga, and that is where they discovered the sports. 

But two years after getting into the physically intensive sport, Rawson had a freak accident during practise. She fell off the poles, injuring her spine.  

"It was September 2016, and I lost my grip and fell. I landed on my neck and burst my vertebrae. I had fallen before, but the way I landed this time was different." 

She was in the intensive care unit for a week and had to undergo intensive rehabilitation to relearn how to walk for three months.  

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Five months after her injury the 25-year-old was back in training on her beloved poles.  

"When I left the rehabilitation centre, I was not 100%, but I was keen to go back to training. When I was in hospital and realised I would be fine, I started thinking about going back to training." 

She started beginner classes as soon as her body was up to it.

 Kaitlin Rawson hangs upside down on a pole during
Aerial pole athlete Kaitlin Rawson injured her neck and spine in a freak accident. She had to relearn to walk.

Last year, in a virtual competition, she won first place in the World Pole and Aerial Sports Championships. 

Rawson says because her right side has not fully recovered from the injury, she competes in the ParaPole PPM1 decreased muscle power division of the competition. In last year's competition, Rawson had to record a video of her routine and enter it into the competition. She is currently ranked number one in her category worldwide. 

She said:

It was an amazing achievement. Thinking about what I had to go through after being injured and now being able to compete and represent South Africa internationally was extraordinary.

This year the World Pole and Aerial Sports Championships takes place in October in Lausanne, Switzerland. The mother and daughter duo and 10 other South Africans have qualified for the competition. Debbie will compete in the over-40s category. 

"It is so great to compete with my mother. Hopefully, from us, there will be more awareness of the sport. The sport is still growing, and hopefully, more and more people will join." 

Debbie Rawson, coach Daniela Baker and Kaitlin Raw
Debbie Rawson, coach Daniela Baker and Kaitlin Rawson show off their gold medals from the pole and aerial sports.

While she hopes the sport grows, Rawson also has big plans for herself at this year's competition.

"My goal is to get a gold medal again and break the world record." 

A smiling Kaitlin Rawson sitting on a wheelchair i
Kaitlin Rawson in hospital after her accident.

The current record for her category is 35 points, held by Mexican athlete Isabel Aguilar. Last year, she scored 37.1, but the online records did not count.

"I hope to break the record this year. That is what will make me happy," she said. 

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