DALTON, Mass. (AP) - Unlike many people in her position, 16-year-old Rebecca Grunow isn't shy about her back.
Diagnosed with scoliosis when she was 13, the Wahconah Regional High School student is turning her spinal curvature into a source of support by starting the first Massachusetts chapter of the teen-run organization Curvy Girls.
"I want to have meetings so people aren't so scared about having it, because all of us are going through the same things," Grunow said, "If they don't know anybody that has it, they won't know what to expect."
Scoliosis, a medical condition prevalent in girls and typically found during the pre-teen growth spurt, causes the back to take on an "S'' or "C'' curvature and often requires either a back brace or surgery to correct.
Katie Wiater, school nurse at Herberg Middle School in Pittsfield, said over the years she has seen many girls deeply hurt by the social stigma associated with the brace.
"I'll get a call from a parent, and they're overwhelmed. They'll say, 'What are we supposed to do? She's saying she doesn't ever want to go to school again,'" she said.
Wiater pointed out that she often makes arrangements for girls with braces to change for gym in the health office to avoid the judging eyes of peers.
A Long Island, N.Y., teen began Curvy Girls in 2006 to address the social and emotional effects of scoliosis. From the group's name to slogans like "Brace yourself, here we come" and "We've got your back," Curvy Girls uses humor to lighten the condition's difficulties while providing an online and in-person network of support. Wiater estimated that she sees eight to 14 students with varying degrees of scoliosis every year at Herberg; a group like Curvy Girls could be just the kind of lifeline those kids need to realize they're not alone, she said.
"This is uncharted territory," Wiater said. "It's almost like nobody talks about it, so the parents call, and they're so apprehensive about it. I'm just so thrilled that somebody's coming up with a support group."
Grunow's spinal curvature was too extreme for a back brace to be of any help, and she instead underwent two surgeries within a year to address her condition.
The back-up pitcher for Wahconah softball, Grunow yelled herself hoarse from the bench last Saturday as her teammates pushed through 11 innings to take the state Division II title. She's also on the volleyball team, and though she had to give up gymnastics, she still teaches at Gymfest of the Berkshires in Pittsfield.
Curvy Girls of Western Massachusetts currently has three members, including Grunow, but small numbers are how the original group started. Now, there are 20 chapters across the country, from Georgia to Alaska. Grunow's is the first in the state, and she's already gaining recognition.
At softball tryouts earlier this year, a girl whom Grunow didn't know approached her because, the girl told Grunow, she wanted to talk about her own scoliosis.
"I thought that was pretty cool," Grunow said. "It feels good that people know that I have it, and they can come up to me to talk about it - because when I found out, I had no one to talk to."
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