Friday, October 22, 2010

Michigan teen with CP competes on cross-country team

From The Grand Rapids Press:

BYRON CENTER, Mich. -- Allison Ching (left in picture) isn't sure where her love of running comes from, but her best guess is it's tied to watching the sport on television with her father.

But while Allison, 14, an eighth-grader at Byron Center West Middle School, was captivated by the sport, doctors told her she likely would never be a runner because she has cerebral palsy.

What doctors apparently overlooked was the teen-ager's steadfast determination and the encouragement of her teammates.

Allison has bonded with those teammates to the point that once they've crossed the finish line in a race, they quickly return to the course to cheer her on. Allison typically finishes the 2-mile course more than 10 minutes behind them.

In showing their support, her teammates technically ignore cross country's "pacing" rule that prevents them from supplying undue help on a course to other runners. They rush back to the course to help Allison navigate unfamiliar courses, which wind through fields and woods.

"She's a wonderful person, and it's in our heart to help her," teammate Lyric Bronkema said. "It's a miracle she runs. There should be more people like her. Just because she's different, we can still learn a lot from her."

Allison was born with cerebral palsy but wasn't diagnosed with the disorder until she was 10, said her mother, April.

Cerebral palsy, a disorder of the developing brain that affects body movement, posture and muscle coordination, can cause muscles to weaken or become rigid and stiff.

A 2009 Center for Disease Control and Prevention study found the average prevalence of cerebral palsy was 3.3 per 1,000 people in the U.S. in 2004. The CDC reports that roughly 10,000 babies born in the U.S. each year will develop cerebral palsy.

The disorder affects a child's social, academic and motor development.

Doctors offered little hope of Allison ever joining a sports team, April Ching said.

"They told her there was a possibility she may never run," the mother said.

But less than a year ago, Allison, always an active child, amazed her family by wearing a running path through the family's backyard in Wyoming.

Her middle school special education teacher, Sheila Allan, noticed that Allison was performing well enough in the school's walk/run club that she suggested to the school's cross country coach, Becky Haisma, that Allison join the team.

"She showed a huge love of running, and I thought it was something we could tap into," Allan said.

Haisma said Allison joined the team and became an instant hit with teammates.

While some parents at first didn't understand why Byron Center runners apparently broke a rule by returning to the course to help Allison, Haisma said the gesture only underscored her popularity with teammates.

"They are 100 percent loving and accepting of her," Haisma said. "They encourage her because they know what running is like and that it can be grueling. She just loves to run, and the other kids want to her help. They've been very receptive."

Allison, whose disorder makes it difficult for her to communicate, said she is drawn to the demands of how running makes her feel.

"I like the feeling in my legs, but they get sore," she said. "I've made a lot of new friends. As long as I finish a race, I'm happy."