TAMPA (FOX 13) - USF Sundolls dancer Melissa Gonzalez isn't one to back down from a fight.
She started dancing when she was three-years-old. At age 12, during a routine physical, doctors discovered a curve in her back.
"Dance was an outlet for me. It was a break from all the school work," Gonzalez said. "They sent me for x-rays right away. Then they sent me to a specialist."
It was scoliosis, a medical condition that causes an "S" or "C" curve in a person's spine. Melissa never had pain before her diagnosis.
"My shoulders were very uneven and my ribs were twisted," said Gonzalez.
For the next three years, she spent 23 hours a day wearing a back brace to try and straighten her spine. Five years after her diagnosis, she had surgery.
"It started at about 35 degrees, and by the time I had surgery, it was 70 degrees," explained Gonzalez. "They put rods on each side of my spine and then pedicle screws to hold it into place, and then a chain for extra support."
Three days after surgery, she was up and walking. Melissa was sidelined from dancing for just three months but still went to practice.
"I still stretched, but I wasn't able to bend, lift or twist. That was the extent of it. I would still go to practice every day and watch them and I think that was more encouragement," she recalls.
Today, she has no pain. The scoliosis was just a minor bend in her journey. Melissa is studying to become a pediatric orthopedic surgeon. She hopes to one day help other kids with scoliosis.