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New Jersey Veteran Finds New Life in Zumba

New Jersey Veteran Finds New Life in Zumba (Photo: Bro. Jeffrey Ploquinto, SJ /flickr)

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Ten years ago, a truck carrying Marine Lance Corporal Angelica Jimenez was hit by a suicide bomber in Iraq. She was with 13 other female Marines. The bomb detonated on impact, killing three woman and injuring several others. Jimenez survived, but she was left with serious burns and shrapnel in her leg.

Jimenez spend a month in the hospital and a year in outpatient care. She had a couple of surgeries, but was left with scarring on her leg. She said for years after her injury, she was depressed and felt insecure about her scars.

"I felt very insecure about who I was and I think I was just living these years feeling very lost... I just didn't know what to do with my life," Jimenez said. "I tried to stay busy and I tried to socialize, but I was too depressed and too down on who I was. It took me a really long time to pick myself back up."

But Jimenez said she finally found direction about two years ago through a popular dance class known as Zumba. Jimenez said ever since she was young, she had loved to dance. She said it was something that always made her happy.

"I decided I wanted to be a [Zumba] instructor because it inspires me so much that I'd like to share that inspiration with others," Jimenez said. "So not only am I working out and trying to stay healthy, but at the same time I'm dancing and making other people feel good about themselves."

In addition to dance, Jimenez said she found Operation Mend at UCLA a year ago. The program helps veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan gain access to top notch reconstructive surgeons and provides medical and psychological support. Jimenez has had two surgeries so far from Operation Mend. She said they were able to reduce some of her scarring and made it less noticeable.

"[The scar] made me feel very insecure about how I felt. I couldn't wear tight jeans or leggings without feeling like I was being vulnerable... [Operation Mend] pretty much helped me get my confidence back," Jimenez said.

Jimenez said she never does anything too public to celebrate Memorial Day, but tries to keep in touch with her friends who survived the suicide bombing. Jimenez said she hasn't yet visited the graves of her friends who died, saying that she hasn't worked up the courage to do so and that's she's not ready.

"But I think one day I may want to. I do remember them in my own special way on a personal level..." Jimenez said.

This Memorial Day, Jimenez will be hosting a Zumba class with two other instructors. It'll be her first class since her most recent surgery. 

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