The second Yosvani Ramos hit the ground, he knew something horrible had happened. He could see his heel bone, but not the tendon.
“I was on the floor sobbing, thinking it was a bad nightmare that I wanted to wake up from,” the Colorado Ballet dancer remembered. “I could see what was there, and I thought, there is no way I am coming back from this.”
His love, his life
Ramos has been in love with ballet since he was young and started performing as a youth. He won the gold medal at the Paris International Ballet Competition in 1998, and then went on to be a principal dancer for the English National Ballet, The Australian Ballet and the Cincinnati Ballet before joining the Colorado Ballet in 2015. But at only 37, he lay on the ground during a “Nutcracker” rehearsal, thinking it was the end.
The Achilles injury
Six days after his injury, Dr. Joshua Metzl performed a minimally invasive procedure to fix Ramos’ Achilles injury — a technique proven to decrease surgical risk and allow for quicker recovery.
“I have a very small scar and was in a cast for two weeks instead of the usual six,” Ramos said. “Then once I was in a boot, I was able to work that muscle so I didn’t get muscle atrophy, which was a big deal for my recovery. Then I started rehab.”
And that’s when Ramos realized it wasn’t the end.
UCHealth Steadman Hawkins Clinic-Denver has a marker-less motion analysis known as Dynamic Athletics Research Institute. It’s essentially an avatar — a system that tracks the patient’s every joint — and by taking them through a battery of tests, evaluates their range of motion and strengths. This allows for a specifically tailored rehab program to bring the patient back to where they want to be.
“My recovery wasn’t about just being able to walk like a normal person,” Ramos said. “I needed to be back on stage.”
Ramos started small, with little stuff. He was going to rehab at Steadman Hawkins twice a week for one hour and then committed to doing those same exercises at home or in the gym during the rest of the week.
“I remember my first day (of rehab) and how scared I was as they forced me to move my foot,” he said. “But there was no one day that I felt I shouldn’t be doing this. It was such a logical process the way rehab rehabilitated me, and in a couple of months, I was doing jumps.”
As he improved, he started pushing himself more and would exercise for two hours with a day of rest in between.
“I worked really hard and am very focused. But I didn’t do it alone,” he added. “And if this was going to happen anywhere, the place for it to happen was here in Denver, where they’re the best.”
Ramos started rehearsing for Colorado Ballet’s “Dracula” in early September 2017 — less than a year after his Achilles injury — and he returned to the stage a month later for its opening.
“Right before the show it was like I’d taken four espressos,” he said. “I hadn’t been on stage for a year. I had so much energy. I’d been dancing for 29 years and had never been offstage for that long. But it was like riding a bicycle, and I felt completely prepared to be on that stage.”
Ramos continued the season, performing in the “Nutcracker” in December, then on to play the part of Romeo in “Romeo and Juliet” and has been preparing to be the prince in Colorado Ballet’s production of “Sleeping Beauty,” which opens this month.
He had returned with a whole new understanding and knowledge of his body, he said.
“I found out my weaknesses through this, and I discovered things about how I was using my body,” Ramos explained. “I learned exercises that make me more balanced and therefore stronger. I think my Achilles injury will actually make my career longer because now when something happens, I’ve learned what to do to balance that out and make myself stronger.”
Ramos said he hopes to continue to dance for several more years, and any time past that will be “icing on the cake.”
“I’m still lucky that I’m performing at the top of my game,” he said.
But when the time does come, he said he’ll put what he’s learned toward directing.