A week later, I started to feel very sick, and soon after I was diagnosed with shingles. The virus left half my face paralyzed, messed up my balance and blurred my vision. The doctors told me that in six months to a year and a half I'd be 100 percent back to normal. But I didn't know if I'd ever compete again.
Leaving the hospital, I felt it was all catching up with me. I couldn't walk, I couldn't taste anything, I didn't look right. I went home and got ready to spend months alone, sitting on the couch, waiting to get better. That's when they started coming. What felt like a constant stream of friends from every corner of my life descended on Fairfield, Connecticut, with one purpose: to cheer me up. They made me laugh at them, and when they saw my crooked grin, they made me laugh at myself. That's when I realized how many deep, lifelong connections I had made. I try to make people laugh and happy, and they were all returning the favor.
Now that I've fully recovered, I'm grateful for everything. I walk down the street and think, I'm not dizzy, my legs are working right, I can see straight and smell and hear clearly. It's a nice day. I have a family that loves me and friends who will be there no matter what. My father is with me. I'm competing again, and I think people are rooting for me. I have a new credibility with fans because they've learned that I don't have the perfect life. I'm like the character in a movie whose misfortunes help people relate to him. And I'm always aware that everything can go wrong, that it can all be taken away at any minute. Like I said, I feel much older than 25.