From a young age, Alyssa Pinkley had big goals for the future.
A gymnast since she was a toddler, Pinkley wanted to become an Olympian.
"I started in gymnastics when I was 3," said Pinkley, a cheerleader at Iowa Central Community College. "I was training 30 hours a week at the gym and when I was 11 and 12 years old I was competing at Level 10, which is the highest level."
by Emilie Nelson-Jenson
Alyssa Pinkley, an Iowa Central Community College cheerleader, flies at the top of a pyramid stunt during a recent practice as cheerleaders Anna Gall, left, Paige Altman and Mariah Waddle base. Pinkley has endured major surgeries including two total hip replacements since she was 13 years old.
By the time she reached her teenage years, she was ready to compete at the elite level, attending one elite camp and being called back for another a few weeks later.
"About two weeks after I went to the first camp, I had a pain in my hip," she said. "I couldn't go to the second camp. I thought at first it was just a strain, so I kept on going."
After an X-ray did not reveal any problems, Pinkley continued to train, but the pain in her hip remained.
"It kept getting worse and, after an MRI in Ames, the doctor said he had never seen anything like it," she said.
Pinkley was diagnosed with a stress fracture in the femoral head, which was cutting off the blood supply to her left hip.
"He had seen the same kind of fracture, but never in the ball of the hip," she said.
Pinkley was sent home not knowing what the next step of treatment would be. She continued to train and work out at the gym in hopes of returning to competitive gymnastics.
"My doctor called Mayo, we worked with the Team USA gymnastics doctors in Nashville and they weren't sure what they could do," said Pinkley. "They were all calling around - doctors in Ames, Nashville and at Mayo -and they finally found a doctor in Baltimore, Maryland, who could help."
The result was three major hip surgeries in an attempt to save her hip and prevent the bone from dying. She endured halos, rods through the muscles and bones, bone graphs and a bone fixator which did not properly correct her condition.
"My hip collapsed and I was supposed to have the fixator removed and redone again," she said. "The bone had died and my parents had to make the decision to have my hip fused together where I wouldn't be able to move it, or do a total hip replacement."
At 13 , Pinkley's hip was replaced, and it forced her to find a new passion.
"When you're 13 you're so young, you really don't take that all in," she said. "I just did the therapy and went on. I was able to train with a fixator on, but after the total hip I didn't know what to do. I just kept going to the gym because that was my life. It was a lot to take in, I was still so young. I realized before I went into high school maybe gymnastics wasn't something I could do."
Pinkley took her knowledge and skills as a gymnast and put them to use when she made the football and competition cheerleading squads at Bondurant-Farrar High School.:
"My dream was to be in the Olympics, but I had to make a new goal for myself."
Through high school, Pinkley was a competitive cheerleader, and was a tumbler and stunt flyer for the cheer squad.
During her junior year of high school, Pinkley discovered a bubble on the surgical scar on her hip. Doctors were unsuccessful at attempting to drain the bubble, and Pinkley continued to cheer with a bandaged wound on her hip.
"It was there all through my senior year," she said. "Every day I had to wrap it to keep it from oozing."
Pinkley tried out and made the cheerleading squad at Iowa Central for the 2011-2012 year and continued to battle the wound on her hip for the first semester of her college career.
"I was a flyer in stunts and on the football cheer squad," Pinkley said. "I did what I could do, but I was so frustrated. It didn't hurt, but I wanted it to stop."
In November 2011, Pinkley returned to her doctor in Baltimore and was diagnosed with an infected hip. She finished her first semester of college and returned home for the second semester. She took online classes and underwent surgery to remove the hip replacement and received three doses of strong antibiotics per day for eight weeks to stop the infection.
She was 19 when she underwent a second total hip replacement in March.
Months of intense therapy followed.
She returned to Iowa Central and the cheer squad this fall.
"I have a six- to 12-month recovery ahead of me," said Pinkley.
Despite the challenges, Pinkley continues to work hard and inspire her cheer squad peers and coach at Iowa Central.
"She is a very determined individual," said Amanda Murphy, Iowa Central cheerleading coach. "She never wants any special treatment, and for the elite gymnast that she was she has set new goals, stayed determined and made the best of the situation."
The experience has helped Pinkley set a fresh goal for the future.
"I've been through so much therapy that my new goal is to become a physical therapist," she said. "I've learned to set new goals. I have something to look forward to. It's been a tough road for five years, but I've always had the support of my family and friends."
Her father, Steve Pinkley, is impressed by his daughter's path. "It has been a long road, but I have been so amazed at her positive attitude," he said. "So many disappointments, so much taken away, but she has made adjustments and kept going."