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  • Writer's pictureKelly LaVallie

From Brain Surgery to Show Jumping, this Local Teen Exemplifies Humble Strength

Just like her athletic idols Chris Norton and Bethany Hamilton, Rylie Ludwig of Elburn is devoted to sharing her “journey of healing” in hopes of inspiring others.

As a competitive show jumper at the young age of 15, Rylie’s dedication to the sport and its daily practice commitments are impressive. It is how she is fighting and overcoming debilitating health challenges, however, that are of real praise and admiration.

At only six years old, in May of 2012, after having undiagnosed symptoms for months, doctors detected a golf ball sized brain tumor in Rylie’s right frontal lobe. An additional mass equal in size was surrounding it. She was immediately rushed to Lurie’s Children’s Hospital in Chicago for surgery.

In the days prior to her diagnosis, Rylie walked a 5K for MS research, was laughing and enjoying time with her friends, watched her brother play baseball, and snuggled with her dogs. She was in kindergarten and participated in dance. Like most six year-old’s should, she was enjoying all that life had to offer.

Post operation Rylie’s left side had been compromised. She required a brace on her left foot and hand, lost all fine motor skills, and needed constant 24 hour care. A 6-inch scar was left on her skull at the incision site, and for six months she had to be monitored carefully preventing any possible bumps to her head as she healed. Life as she knew it was forever changed.

Initially, Rylie had mandatory MRIs every 3 months, then six, then nine and twelve. She is now monitored every 24 months to ensure there aren’t any signs of regrowth. Rylie, fortunately, had a mother and father that were determined to give their child every possible resource needed to aid in her recovery. Her mother Katy reveals, “We started with physical, occupational and speech therapy initially, but we knew she needed something a little more in her treatment plan.”

To eliminate pain and effects of the spasticity Rylie experienced for years post surgery, she began seeing Dr. Joe Baldino at Integrative Neurology, as well as Dr. Kimbra Runyan at Function Co. in St. Charles for acupuncture and cupping. Rylie affectionately praises, “Dr. Joe’s office is a place where he knows me inside and out and would do anything to cure me. His office is a place of hope.”

Rylie’s most happy and serene place is on a horse. She started riding as a form of therapy after surgery, but it soon evolved into a passion of hers. Bellis Show Jumping in Maple Park, with Steve Schaefer and Rebecca Lannoye, is her “home away from home.” Rylie’s dad Bryan shares, “They accept her and push her, igniting her drive to compete. Rylie loves that they seamlessly look past her challenges and bring out the absolute best in her.” While at Bellis, Rylie appreciates the freedom she experiences to be a “normal teen,” without judgment, and to compete with her peers without consideration of her disability. Katy offers, “She couldn’t feel more happy or free than when she’s on horseback.”

To perform competitively Rylie must keep to a disciplined practice schedule. She rides two hours daily, six days a week. She commits to traveling across the country year round, often for months at a time for competitions. This type of dedication would be overwhelming to most teenagers, but it’s an environment in which Rylie thrives.

In addition to show jumping, cupping and acupuncture therapies, Rylie has recently added bi-weekly personal training to her schedule. She is a member at Pound 4 Pound Fitness in Elburn and has noticed increased strength, balance, and confidence since starting. Her trainer Alex Krienitz is conscious of her physical needs while pushing her to excel in ways she never considered possible. Because of him, Rylie is no longer embarrassed to go to the gym and continues to outperform the goals they have set together.

As a result of Rylie’s post-surgical challenges, she was bullied in middle school. “This left a massive impact and sting on her life,” reflects Katy. “Thankfully, we have been able to fill Rylie’s life with support and opportunities to continue healing physically and emotionally. Rylie has learned to be a self-advocate for her needs from a very young age.” Because brain injuries do not only result in physical challenges, what Rylie is dealing with cannot always be seen. The way she thinks, learns, and processes life has been affected. For a teenage girl, that struggle is a heavy weight to carry, but she continues every day to be a positive inspiration. She chooses to be graceful and dedicated to the therapeutic “work” she has to endure. She rarely complains how different her daily schedule and challenges are from that of many of her peers. Rylie continues to be a role model by facing her challenges with strength and positivity.

Katy adds, “We’ve always said that we don’t let Rylie’s surgery and recovery define us, yet over the years, maybe it does. She has made us all stronger and this has brought us closer together as a family. Because of all the help she has needed, it’s introduced us to some amazing people in our lives we might otherwise have missed.” Rylie’s path has made the Ludwig’s more humble, compassionate, and accepting of all things in life. Their daughter is a young lady in our community that deserves, and is worthy of a special spotlight.

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