Student runs past struggles on track team

« Poland Neighbors


Neighbors | Submitted.Olivia Spencer, pictured running track, was sent to the emergency room at three months old because she stopped breathing. The experience left her with hemiplegic cerebral palsy. Through years of physical therapy, she learned to run. She now runs for Poland's track team.


Neighbors | Zack Shively.Olivia Spencer, a student at Poland Seminary High School, has finished up her first season running track at the school, despite not knowing if she would ever walk because of her hemiplegic cerebral palsy.


A Poland freshman, once unsure if she would walk, finished an important first year of running track for the high school team.

The runner, Olivia Spencer, has hemiplegic cerebral palsy, a form of cerebral palsy that affects the movement in the left side of her body. From the age of 3-months-old, her condition has caused her struggles, but she has taken on the challenge of running track.

“I’m not supposed to be walking, and now I’m sprinting,” said Spencer. She said the sport can be frustrating at times because she cannot run as well as many of the others, but she said “it’s crazy” to think about where she is now in comparison to her childhood.

At 3-months-old, she stopped breathing. Her mother, Maria Spencer, took her to the emergency room. She lost oxygen, leaving her with hemiplegic cerebral palsy. She began physical and occupational therapy at the age of 10-months-old.

She now runs the 100- and 200-meter dash races under the direction of coaches Gabby Massey and Mark Brungard. Maria and Olivia both complimented the coaches for how well they have met her needs during practices and conditioning.

Both Olivia and Maria credit physical therapists Kathy O’Shaughnessy and Linda Ankerman for getting her to where she is now. O’Shaughnessy began helping at age 3 as a part of the school’s IEP for Spencer. Ankerman, a friend of the family, assisted her since she was 9-months-old.

She learned to walk at the age of 2 with the assistance of a leg brace. She did not learn to run for a while after that, her mom noted. In third and sixth grade, she had surgery done to lengthen her heel to make running easier for her.

“We don’t take any movement for granted in our family,” said Maria Spencer after explaining how difficult it was for Olivia to learn how to run as a child.

She wanted to do an activity in sixth grade and she chose to be a part of the track team. She went to the summer track camp and loved it. She has made a good amount of friends through track and the camp.

She enjoyed the camp so much that she helped teach at the camp last summer. She said she wants the younger children to have fun while participating in the sport.

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