Civic Imagination

Juggling against all odds

Nelli Kujansivu is a Finnish foot juggler based in Stockholm. When she was ten, she fell from a human pyramid to the concrete floor and broke her both feet so badly that the doctors said she'd never be able to walk normally again. Bones in her feet were shattered and her feet swollen. At one point, she was taking 15 pain medication pills a day.

However, she decided to beat all the odds and started to learn foot juggling.

Now, at the age of 22, she is still living in almost daily pain. But she doesn't let that to define her. She has learned to accept pain as part of her life. This June she graduated from the University of Dance and Circus (DOCH) in Stockholm and continues to follow her dream career by performing internationally.

(link to her website:

(link to the Finnish story on YLE

I read about the story from a news website. I don’t usually read stories about sports but something made me click the article open. I found Nelli’s story very inspiring – she has endured a lot from a very young age. It’s hard to imagine what it would feel like to live in constant pain, which sometimes resonates through her whole body. What’s more, she continued to train her feet despite the shattered bones – it takes a lot of gut. Foot juggling requires perfect control of feet and leg muscles, and she has mastered that despite her injuries. Her work is hypnotic to watch.

This story was shared by the national broadcaster so I think it received a lot of coverage. Interestingly, Nelli’s bio on her website doesn’t mention the accident – perhaps she wants to go forward on her own merit. Based on the interview I read she seems like a happy and bubbly person, who would rather not let herself be dragged down her difficult past.

The story resonates with me still because as a woman, it’s great to see other women succeed. Also, whatever problems or fears I might have about my future career are small compared to her struggles as a child after the accident.
I shared the story on my personal Facebook wall because even though I’m not a sports person, I found that there were elements in her story that were very universal.

If anything, this is a story of perseverance and hope. Even though the impact of Nelli’s resilience is mainly to her own life, her story can help others to persevere at times of difficulty. Her talent and success are hard-earned. She refused to listen to those who said she would never be able to walk normally again, and overcame all expectations by becoming a professional foot juggler.
Nelli’s story could easily be turned into a film or a book. Her adamant belief in herself and trust in her own abilities could easily inspire other young girls with physical problems or defects to take up sports. In many ways, she is like a real-life superhero.

#circus #juggling #inspirational #femalesports #foot juggling #chronic pain

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