BETHLEHEM — After overcoming obstacles, seventh grader Annika Clark is heading to Scotland to compete in the world championships of Irish dance.
In May 2014, when Annika was in fifth grade, after she underwent a routine appendectomy, it was clear something was not right. During her hospital stay, Annika, who attends Bethlehem Central Middle School, developed debilitating pain in her stomach and legs, and by August ,she had lost her ability to walk.
“It has not been an easy journey for Annika,” said her mother, Danielle Clarke.
She had every test possible and saw many specialists both in this region and beyond. “Every test came back clear – there was no injury to her foot, nothing was wrong with her.” At that point, dance was unthinkable, said Clarke.
Doctors discovered the source of her pain as Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), a rare disorder that causes nerve endings to flare up randomly in pain response when no harm has come to the body.
Only through occupational therapy, meditation and other coping mechanisms did Annika learn to distinguish real pain from pain caused by CRPS. She uses no medication.
“I knew that there was nothing wrong with my foot. I would rather dance and try to forget the pain than never dance again,” said Annika Clarke, who began dancing again mere months after her diagnosis.
“It was really hard ’cause I couldn’t do any of the things I wanted to,” said Annika Clarke. “I was in a boot and crutches from September  to April . But, the hardest part was not dancing.”
By November of 2015, she was ready for the regionals in Philadelphia. At that competition, she placed 8th out of 165 champion dancers, qualifying her for the World Championships.
“Somehow, she has gone from not walking in May to placing 8th in the Mid Atlantic region and qualifying for Worlds,” said Danielle Clarke. “This has been due to incredible hard work by Annika and her amazing teacher, Lexa Hickey of An Clar. None of us can believe that we will be watching her dance in Glasgow in March. We see all these dancers and they make it look easy — I know from personal experience that there is always a story behind the dancer.”
“Just qualifying for World’s is a huge accomplishment, but after all that Annika has overcome, she is already a winner!”
Annika is a student of Lexa Hickey at the An Clar School of Irish Dance, located at the Celtic Hall in Albany, N.Y., and in Byram, New Jersey. An Irish Dancer since the age of four, Annika started dancing in Rhode Island and Boston, and has been dancing at the championship level since age 8.
Annika Clarke heads to Scotland Thursday, March 17, to compete March 21.