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When My Daughter With Cerebral Palsy Ran Her First Race


My shaking hands fumbled with the pins. How could four pins be such a tangled mess? I cursed to myself. There were hundreds of kids at the starting line, and never have I been more aware of the difference between those children and mine. Like many of the kids at the starting line, Emma was 3 years old and about to run her first race. Except, there was one big difference: Emma has cerebral palsy.

She wanted to do this, and I pledged when she was diagnosed to never set limits on her. She can do anything, I reminded myself as I nervously pinned her race bib to her shirt. In her short three years of life, she had watched her mommy run countless numbers of road races. I was keenly aware that this is where she got the desire to run this race. It made me so very proud, and terrified at the same time. This could be a disaster — or this could be monumental.

The announcer called the countdown, and just before he blew the whistle, Emma looked back at me with a mix of excitement and nervousness in her eyes. I gave her the thumbs up and a reassuring smile. As she took off, my stomach twisted in a knot.

As much as I believed in her, I knew it would be difficult for her to run with a brace on her left leg. I knew she would fall behind in the crowd, and her left leg would get tired. I knew she might stumble and fall once she fatigued, or trip over her brace.

All of those things happened.

About halfway around the course, I saw her starting to limp. Then, she slowed to a stop. I began to prepare what I would say to her. How I would reassure her and tell her how proud I was of her for trying her best. I wondered how I would explain to her why the other kids were able to finish, and she was not. Suddenly, the guilt I felt for letting her be in that position took my breath away. I felt like the worst mother in the world.

Then, the most amazing thing happened. She started to run again, faster and harder than I have ever seen her run. She began to pass other kids, and as she rounded the corner, I saw a look in her eyes of fierce determination, and also the physical pain she was pushing through. She limped terribly as she ran with all of her might.

When she crossed that finish line, the look of pride on her face as she received her finisher’s medal is forever etched in my memory.

Emma’s first race was monumental.

Follow this journey at Grass and Roots Family.

A version of this story has been published on The Medium.