CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. -- Athletes come in all shapes, sizes and ages, and not all of them play or compete in what some would consider a traditional sport.
One definition of "athletic" merely states using physical skills or abilities like strength and stamina. And those two traits come in all forms.
Six days a week and for as many as four to five hours a day, 12-year-old Kara Thackston practices and performs her craft.
Kara is a member of the Collaborative dance team at Encore Studio in Chesterfield and much like any other athlete, after all those hours of practice and performance, her body lets her know about it.
"Our abs, our arms, feet because we have to point our feet super hard, straighten our knees," Kara explained.
"You have to really show your emotions at times. Even when it's jazz, you have to have a good smile on your face. When it's emotional, you need to express all your feelings."
Kara and her teammates have already earned a shelf full of awards at competitions in Baltimore, Northern Virginia and North Carolina. Combine that with an already hectic school schedule and you can understand where even the most energetic of pre-teens could get worn down a little.
Almost four years ago Kara was feeling run down, but it wasn't from staying so busy.
"We noticed I was losing a lot of weight," Kara said. "I kept on being hungry even though we just finished dinner. I kept on going to the bathroom a lot and not feeling like my normal self."
Kara's family eventually took her to MCV where tests revealed that she was battling more than just a little fatigue.
"She had strep throat six weeks before her initial diagnosis," Kara's mom Michelle explained. "They think that virus triggered the gene to attack her pancreas."
Kara was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, which is non-hereditary and has no cure as of yet. Now, the focus and concentration that has helped her with her dancing is also helping her to regulate her insulin.
"I worried about what was going to happen with dance because its the one thing she has loved since she was very little," Michelle said. "When she's on stage or performing, she lights up. I worried that having type 1 diabetes was going to take that away from her."
"I had not heard the word diabetes once I got diabetes," Kara said. (Now she hears it) "A lot, but it's still challenging. Every day I'm still having my ups and downs not knowing what could happen."
"Nothing is spontaneous anymore after you get a diagnosis like this," Michelle added. "That's the element of life that's kind of out the door."
But while Kara may be the only kid in her classes at dance or at school, she and her family aren't going through this alone.
Since her diagnosis she has formed a walk team for Juvenile Diabetes fundraisers called Fierce and Fabulous and they have raised about $100,000 in the past four years. You can learn more about their cause and donate here.
Her doctors have encouraged her to keep dancing as long as she's able and enjoys it. The activity helps regulate her blood sugars and the friendships help regulate her attitude and morale. And it has taught her a level of responsibility not always asked of kids her age.
"What do i have to do to do what I love?" Michelle said. "I have to be good at counting my carbs. I have to watch what I eat. I have to communicate with my mom and make sure I have everything that I need to have because I want to get out there and I want to dance."
"I always think of the positive and realize that even though I might have this for the rest of my life, I can always fight through it and I'll always have my support system that can help me through that."