Welcome to the first edition of the a.fatti Conquer the Unimaginable Series, where we tell the stories of people doing extraordinary things, against all odds. Got your own story to tell? We want to know about it! Whether you're stretching far beyond your comfort zone, or the chips are stacked against you and you're still pushing through, making unimaginable things happen, we want to hear about it. Send your story to us at email@example.com
By age 6, Amaya had already discovered a love for dance and gymnastics.
In her very first classes, she impressed coaches with her graceful movements and abilities in Acro dance – a form of acrobatic dance that requires flexibility, strength and precision control over the body. And in only a few years, Amaya transitioned to gymnastics and showed so much talent, she was being primed to perform competitively.
But then, at only age 9, her hopes were crushed.
Amaya was diagnosed with a debilitating physical condition known as Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (EDS). EDS is a painful connective tissue disorder that causes joints to become loose and dislocated. For Amaya, this meant that ordinary physical activities were suddenly painful, tiring and dangerous. Her heart beats faster, causing her to become fatigued more easily. It meant being unable to carry all her school books or participate in gym class without resting. It meant needing extra assistance with schoolwork and providing her teachers with letters that explained her limitations.
Worst of all, Amaya's doctors advised that she should refrain from "all activities that place undue impact on the joints."
They told her she should never do gymnastics again.
Amaya was heartbroken. But she wasn't going to give up so easily.
She continued to train, despite her sickness. She went against doctors' orders and continued to work hard at gymnastics, carefully using her body's cues to control and overcome the pain.
Amaya's coaches were amazed by her determination and her ability. Her mother Erin says, "The coach saw how hard she worked even though she was very sick." And in 2015, Amaya was picked to join the competitive team.
The next year, she entered her first USAG competition and she placed 3rd all-around – an amazing feat for any young gymnast, but especially for someone suffering with EDS.
In March 2017, she faced another setback.
Amaya was diagnosed with dysautonomia, a disorder of the autonomic nervous system. But this didn't stop her either.
A few months later, she placed 1st all-around in the States competition, while also receiving a medal in every event she participated in. Last June, she took home the gold medal for the floor exercise at Regionals.
Another remarkable feat is that Amaya, now age 13, hasn't received the same level of elite private training as other top gymnasts her age. She has trained at a small rec center in South Philadelphia, and yet she's gone toe-to-toe with big-money gymnastics teams from across the region.
Conquering the unimaginable
In virtually every event she's entered, Amaya has placed among the top 5, often out of more than 50 participants. Her coaches, teammates and family are constantly inspired by her.
What keeps her pushing so hard, when the obstacles have been so great?
For Amaya, it's two primary things: making her mom proud and winning.
"It's fun to win awards and to actually hear your name being called," she says, "It makes you feel special."