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May 10, 2018

Extraordinary Woman: One Mother’s Journey in Resilience

By Tampa Bay Parenting

Dancing the Journey to Being Whole: Janet Trapuzzano’s Story

There are a few people in my life that I find deeply inspirational. Janet Claire Trapuzzano is one of them. An accomplished dancer, professional and family woman, her story is a moving testament to the power of the mind and the importance of resiliency. 

Growing up, Trapuzzano lived for dance. Her raw talent and stage presence were undeniable—her fouette turns powerful. Despite her parents’ wishes, she auditioned for Florida State University’s dance program. “There were 5,000 dancers,” Trapuzzano recalls. “I didn’t understand the gravity of the audition.” She was one of 50 chosen and also earned a place on FSU’s Golden Girls dance team. Planning to move to New York to dance, Trapuzzano began to schedule auditions in New York City as graduation neared.  

A Turn 

On Dec. 18th, 2001, Janet was in a car accident that severed her left arm. On a life flight to Shands Jacksonville, she wondered about her dance career and who would like her. “I was single and suddenly not whole,” Trapuzzano says. “It may sound vain, but all amputees I’ve spoken with have similar thoughts.” Afterwards, she returned to Tampa and after a particularly emotionally trying week, chose to pick herself up and move on with life.  

She graduated from FSU and got back into the dance studio. Trapuzzano gets emotional remembering her return to her second home, Elsa Pardo Dance center in Tampa: “Everyone in the studio cried. I cried through the entire class. But, that first class catapulted the healing of my mind and heart.” Dancing was the thing that always filled her with peace and stepping into that first class, despite the unknown, paved a path to recovery: “Dancing started my process of becoming whole again.”  

Taking Steps  

Trapuzzano started teaching dance again and, though she didn’t initially realize it, re-telling her story to students and parents was cathartic. She landed a spot dancing for Willa Ford, and no one knew she had a prosthetic until rehearsals. She became one of the top 17 girls on “So You Think You Can Dance” and didn’t immediately reveal her prosthetic. “I wore long sleeves to auditions because I wanted to be chosen for my talent, not my story.” Taking the first step was never easy; Trapuzzano recalls her initial hesitation putting on a bathing suit after the accident: “After you do it, though, you realize it’s okay. It’s working through fear of the unknown.” Today, Trapuzzano feels no limitations when it comes to dance and shares her passion with her daughter.  

Get Stuff Done  

Trapuzzano is direct with her kids about the adversity she’s faced and the choice she makes not to dwell and complain. “I tell them that anything is possible, how proud I am of them, and that, no matter what, they are going to succeed.” Her 4-year-old son asks questions, knows about the accident, and knows what to do when his mom tells him to “run upstairs and grab my arm.” She has about seven prosthetic arms, all with different functions and aesthetics.   

Trapuzzano’s professional life has also nurtured her healing. As an orthobiologic sales specialist, she shares her story with other amputees. “Being an amputee requires being comfortable with yourself, and I share that with patients.” She has found that people aren’t uncomfortable approaching her because she doesn’t make it uncomfortable: “I encourage patients, and even parents at our kids’ school, to ask questions.” A successful entrepreneur, she and her husband recently bought Pine Lake Nursery and model for their kids how to get stuff done: “We wouldn’t be where we are without each other.”  

The family’s success, personally and professionally, is built on a positive mindset: “I’ve learned that adaptability is key. How we choose to treat one outcome affects the next decision.” While she doesn’t deny having low points after her accident, she understands the mind’s power and encourages, “Pick yourself up and surround yourself with positive people.”  

Prosthetics are classified as durable medical equipment, and this limits amputees’ access to them. Trapuzzano has worked with lobbyists to increase amputees’ financial rights.  

Each day, we make choices—choices about our perspective, what we do with our time, and with whom we share ourselves. Trapuzzano’s story illustrates the good that can come from choosing to see the possible, choosing resiliency and to take the first steps, and choosing to dance your way through getting stuff done.     

Take a Look 

Originally published in the May 2018 issue of Tampa Bay Parenting Magazine.

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