Surprise, Surprise!


My daughter Olivia participated in a track camp last summer….

Track camp is a five day program for kids entering Kindergarten through 7th grade. It is facilitated by the Middle School track coach, along with High School students that participate in track. They introduce track events, and give children the opportunity to try all of them in a fun, relaxed environment.

You may be thinking, “Oh what a nice thing for her to do in the summer, to keep her active and see her friends.” But what you may not realize is that Olivia has never participated in a “typical” sport activity–ever. Nor has she ever had the desire to.

You see, when Olivia was a baby, we prayed she would walk. Most kids learn to walk around their first birthday. With the help of weekly physical therapy and her leg brace, Olivia started walking a few months after her second birthday. It was truly a celebration for all of us. As parents, we always hoped and prayed that day would come and had many uncertain and doubtful moments.

But, as usual, she surprised us.

Once she started walking, her physical therapist informed me that they would next work on running.


The thought never really occurred to me–now we were going to have to teach her to run. Running seemed almost impossible. I was just elated she could walk!

Olivia fought through each therapy session with her amazing determination to learn the gait pattern and balance that it takes to run.

She surprised us again when she was running by her third birthday.

So ….as we were approaching her thirteenth birthday, the fact that she was in track camp with her peers totally overwhelms me. When I brought her to the school for the first day, we spoke to the coach about the fact that she will have to take multiple breaks and do things at her own pace. The coach responded in a very positive way and reassured me she would be taken care of.

As I was walking away from Olivia to go to my car, she said, “Mom, I’m scared.”

And as my heart was about to crumble in a million pieces because I, too, was scared, I said, “You always surprise yourself and do everything you put your mind to! You got this!” And I did what all the other moms did…I walked to my car. Even though it was hard, I knew I had to. But as I watched other moms pull out of the parking lot, I was experiencing emotions that most of them have never had. This moment was uneventful to them, and I was witnessing a small miracle.

As I started to cry in my car, I realized I was crying because I was scared for her, but also because I was so very proud of how far she has come. If someone would have told me when she was two years old that I would be taking her to run track with her typical peers at age thirteen, I would have said they were crazy.

But, as usual, Olivia surprised me.

When I picked her up she was beaming. She had so much fun and loved trying all of the events. She told me in the car that she wasn’t the only one that was falling behind when they were running around the track. Her face told the whole story–she was proud of herself.

Even though every muscle in her body hurt that week, she followed it up by running the 100 and 200 meter events last Spring….and in about a month, she will be starting her second year on the track team. She inspires and encourages her peers, and even though she may be one of the slowest, the crowd cheers her on….she never fails to surprise us.

-Maria Spencer


Maria Spencer is the wife of Michael and the mother of Jonah and Olivia; they reside in Poland, OH. Her daughter Olivia a person with hemiplegic cerebral palsy. Maria is an Education Supervisor at Alta Head Start. Maria writes a monthly column for the Mahoning Valley Parent Magazine and Mid-Ohio Valley Parent entitled, “Special Parents, Special Kids.” She has stories published in “Women of Passions: Ordinary Women Serving an Extraordinary God”, compiled by Janet Ross, and “A Patchwork of Freedom” compiled by Lori Wagner. Maria is an inspirational speaker, blogger, parent coach and disability consultant. Maria is passionate about spreading the word to other special parents that they were chosen for their journey, and they are not alone. She can be reached through her website or her personal blog