Melody Dawson, a grade 7 student from Irwin Memorial Public School, has a lot of determination.
“I would like to say that Melody is a very strong and brave young girl and we are very blessed,” said Angel Dawson, Melody’s mother.
Melody was diagnosed with Langerhans Cell Histiocytosis (LCH) in her younger years which, despite chemotherapy and drug trials, caused neurodegeneration that affected her ability to walk and talk. After being chosen to be part of a different drug trial, Melody and her family quickly saw improvements in her ability to walk and talk. Now she has to be careful to avoid falls and needs to use her walker at times, but she loves to run and to play sports. Until now she has not had the opportunity to be on any teams.
This fall, Dawson told everyone that she wanted to join the cross-country running team. She was a regular participant at practices wearing continuous smiles, said coach Peter Yungblut.
The team trains on trails around the school, something Melody couldn’t do on her own for her safety due to exposed roots. But that did not stop her. “Melody trained by running on the field at school, running on the trails at school when an EA [Educational Assistant] was available, and also running up and down our long driveway,” said Angel.
On race day at Arrowhead Park—the Hoya Hills XC Invitational, hosted by the Huntsville High School cross-country team—Melody wanted to practice on the trails with her friends, said Yungblut. “They kept telling her they wanted to save their energy for the race, but she kept convincing them to practice with her. They ran the same section of trail about four times.”
Dawson participated in the 2km race and ran with an Educational Assistant, Sanday Brown. She was able to pass three other girls. Brown said, “It was wonderful to see Melody participate as a member of our school’s cross-country team. The strength of her will and determination won out over her challenges. She never gave up and always did her best. Congratulations Melody on your success!”
When Melody was asked why she wanted to join and race on the cross-country team, she said that she wanted to show people that she could do it. “She definitely glowed as she crossed the finish line with lots of people cheering,” said Yungblut. “She is an excellent example of how someone can overcome her physical disability and persevere to complete a race and goal.”
After her race, Dawson wanted to cheer on the older students. She used the encouraging words that she heard others shouting to her on the race course because as she finished the race she felt very proud of herself and she wanted others to feel that way too.
Her message to other children who face challenges is to “never give up”.
A new goal for her this school year is to be better at basketball.
Yungblut offered a special thank you to Pierre Mikhail and the Hoyas crew for allowing Dawson to participate and to be included in the race. “A wonderful example of inclusion,” he said.
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