When I was 13 I woke up one morning and could not move or walk on my right foot. I had always been healthy, so this came as a shock. After a number of consults and progression of symptoms throughout my entire body to the point of being bedridden, in excruciating pain, unable to be touched, and my limbs developing contractures while being swollen and blue/purple in color, I was finally diagnosed with a chronic neurological disease associated with dysregulation of the central nervous system and autonomic nervous system that results in multiple functional loss in the bones, muscles, nerves, skin, and blood vessels. I spent the next few years in and out of different hospitals undergoing daily therapies, invasive treatments, and surgeries. With the support of my family, friends, and teachers, I was able to keep up with my school work and returned to high school my senior year after going through one final emergency surgery to remove a large growth that had developed in my abdomen. I managed to graduate on time and went away to college in Memphis and then to graduate school in Boston.
I worked hard in college and double majored in Biology and Psychology as I was influenced so much by my health and how the two were intertwined. Because of my personal experience staying in the hospital so long and my interactions with all the kids and families I met, I also spent much time volunteering my time doing art projects with the kids at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis. I also worked alongside the division chief of Radiation Onclogy in the clinic and doing research on the effects of radiation on cognition, attention, and memory in children with brain tumors. While I was in Memphis things were not 100% with my health, but I was enjoying my life and did not let anything stop me.
After graduating I moved to Boston to pursue my graduate studies where I obtained a M.S.Ed., specializing in severe special needs and my teaching credential. I worked full time with kids with various disabilities ranging from bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, Down Syndrome, Autism, and much more. I was enjoying life and couldn't be happier. But starting around late 2007, my health started to decline as my immune system seemed to get extremely weak. Finally, I became very ill with a terrible infection and ended up very suddenly in the ER with a spiking fever, my blood pressure dangerously low and heart rate dangerously high. It caused me to lose so much function throughout my body (I couldn’t walk, limited use of my hands and arms, limited use of my voice, etc).
After going through much rehab and not seeing any progress, I began to get frustrated. I wanted to get stronger, regain more mobility, coordination, and just be able to go outside in the fresh air and have fun. From my years of teaching special education I knew a number of my students had used horse therapy for various reasons. I didn’t grow up around horses, but I felt like this was something I had to take advantage of. The movement and sensory input from the horse can be used to address posture, balance, sensory integration, coordination, communication and mobility in people with disabilities. Once I started, I saw so many changes emotionally and physically, and I kept wanting to be challenged.
Being on my horse was somewhere that I felt free. You never know what can happen in life, how quickly things can change; but it's important to always pursue those things that make you happy and fulfilled. This was something that I found gave me back my life, my spirit.
I started learning more about dressage and the sport of para-dressage. Dressage is a competitive equestrian sport, defined by the International Equestrian Federation as "the highest expression of horse training", where "horse and rider are expected to perform from memory a series of predetermined movements." It is occasionally referred to as "Horse Ballet". Para-dressage is currently the only equestrian discipline in the Paralympic Games. It was introduced in 1996 and it became a part of the World Equestrian games in 2010.
I am training at El Campeon Farms with Sabine Schut-Kery and my 12 year old Lusitano gelding, Real Erbeo (Royal). Sabine is challenging us both in areas we need to improve, while we work on forming a special bond together. Everyone at El Campeon Farms is truly supportive of our goals. It's a wonderful place to learn and grow.
Everyone at the barn, in the Para-dressage community, my family, and friends have been so supportive. I can't wait to pair up with Royal and show everyone what we can do as we work towards the World Equestrian Games in 2018 and the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo.
I'm working to raise the funds needed for training, transportation, equipment, and entry fees.
You can always check out my website for more updates: http://www.alannaflax-clark.com/
If you or anyone you know would like to support in a fundraising event or sponsorship, please contact me through my website!