Never Say Never – Because little Marie Osborn will show you up
Athletes come in all shapes and sizes. It is the mind, not the body as we are accustomed to believe, that determines physical success. Such is the case with Marie Osborn, the youngest participant in the 2016 San Diego Triathlon Challenge, hosted by the Challenged Athletes Foundation. Marie completed the 10-mile run portion in her hand-cycle, alongside her mom, Heather, and her aunt, Rachel Cosgrove. The minimum age requirement to participate is 16. Only 14 years old, Marie was determined to be at the start line, and this was not the first time she refused to obey the word no.
Marie was born 3 ½ months early. Upon arrival, she had a brain bleed, and the doctors told her parents she would never surpass a vegetative state. Later, she was diagnosed with hydrocephalus, water on the brain, and cerebral palsy, a brain injury or malformation that causes physical impairment to, specifically, the muscles and the person’s ability to control them. The doctors said she would never walk; “never” is not in Marie’s dictionary.
Nine brain surgeries later to install shunts and enlarge the skull – as well as major surgery to straighten both legs, Lasik eye surgery to correct blindness, horse therapy to stretch the muscles and countless physical therapy sessions to facilitate fine motor skills – and Marie’s smile will tell you more than her words.
She ditched her walker at age six and began participating in kids’ runs. She gained sponsorship through CAF and participated in numerous events for them. Soccer, through AYSO VIP, was fun. But she didn’t like being on an all boys (with autism) team, so she frequently played for the girls on the other side of the field during the games. Horse competitions also were a natural fit for several years. She now attends regular 8th grade classes at High Dessert School in Acton. And on the horizon, Marie has her eyes set on the world stage. She wants to participate in the Paralympics in tennis and hand cycling.
When asked where Marie got her drive, Heather contemplated: “People either have the desire to be an athlete or they don’t.” She paused.
“Right after she was born I said, ‘Okay, let’s get started on brain stimulation.’ And then I bought a pony, so horse therapy could begin at age 1. When you put a person on top of the horse, the horse’s natural movements help to stretch and lengthen the muscles in ways that can’t be accomplished otherwise.”
In her earlier years, Heather lived in Northern California, working as a horse trainer and an aid for kids with cerebral palsy.
“And when I had my own, I said, ‘This is what we need to do. We need to get started,’” Heather continued. “I wasn’t going to listen to the doctor. Marie wasn’t going to be a vegetable.”
But keeping up with Marie has proved to be a challenge. When Marie says, ‘I want to do that,’ Heather must figure out how to make it happen. There are not many services in Santa Clarita for competitive athletes who are disabled. Carousal Ranch provides horse therapy. Results Fitness, located in Newhall, has been a big supporter and resource. West Coast Tennis in North Hollywood will help with training. Angel City Sports – whose motto is “sport sees no disability, only the true athlete,” and based in Los Angeles – wants to start clinics and teams in Santa Clarita. But in trying to help them, Heather is running into a wall.
“It’s hard to find kids with the drive to be an athlete,” she said.
CAF’s goal is to help disabled athletes to participate in sports by fundraising for equipment and services because “sport is not a luxury; it’s a necessity.”
As for Marie, she just keeps moving forward. Her latest “ask” is to try roller skates! This made all three of us laugh.
After a reminder that roller skates are every parent’s worst nightmare, that smile – the one that lights up her whole body – came with a quip.
“My mom can wear normal shoes; she doesn’t have to wear skates with me,” she said. “And maybe I can lean on my walker.”
Heather looked a little flush. But the wheels were turning on, and she was figuring how she was going to make this happen.
When asked how she felt after crossing the finish line of her 10-mile hand-cycle event at the triathlon, she thought for a minute.
“I can’t believe I did that!” she exclaimed. “I told my mom that I’m so thankful I have cerebral palsy, so I could do that race.”
photos by Tiffany j Photography