In Sacramento, 16-year old Alyssa was tearing up the skate park. She launched herself into a 12-foot vertical drop, shot straight down the concrete bowl lined with chipped pool tiles and raced full speed to the other side where she spun back around with a look of fierce determination.
“I’ve seen her do a lot of tricks, and I have to admit, that was the first time I’ve been a little nervous for her,” said Alyssa’s mother Anna.
As soon as Alyssa entered the skate park, she demanded spectator attention. Alyssa was grinding rails, popping wheelies and blasting past groups of teenage boys with her bright blue, full-face helmet.
“I’m pushing myself to attempt a backflip one day,” Alyssa explained as she removed her helmet with a confident smile.
Alyssa’s talent at the skate park isn’t the only thing setting her apart from other skateboarders her age. She’s different in one very specific way. She rides a wheelchair.
Alyssa is a force to be reckoned with. As an adaptive sports teen athlete, she loves to surf, skate and recently took first place in the women’s division at the WCMX Adaptive Skate World Competition – the BMX for wheelchair riders. Alyssa’s coach regularly registers her in the women’s division as opposed to the youth division.
“It wouldn’t be fair to her competition. She’s just too good,” said her coach.
Alyssa was diagnosed with leukemia at age two. One year later, Alyssa developed a spinal infection leaving her partially paralyzed. Her parents did a significant amount of research after being frustrated and discouraged by the way doctors spoke about her diagnosis. She was searching for a care team that would give them the one thing they desperately needed, hope.
“The doctors just kept telling me she would be confined to a chair for the rest of her life, and I would have to learn to deal with it,” said Anna. “And that was the end of the discussion. I refused to let that be my daughter’s life.”
Alyssa’s parents brought her to Shriners Hospitals for Children – Northern California (SHCNC) and from the very first appointment, doctors provided Alyssa and her family with therapy options, treatments and additional surgeries to improve Alyssa’s overall well-being.
“Once Alyssa started working with physical therapists at Shriners and participating in horse therapy, her progress was like night and day,” said Anna. “Within days she was sitting on her own for the first time, which was something she had never been able to do before. This place was giving her independence and her life back.”
Over the years, Alyssa has been followed by a multidisciplinary team of SHCNC medical staff including orthopaedists, orthopedic spine surgeons, physical therapists, urologists, bowel management specialists and more. She has been fitted for various assistive mobility devices as she has grown.
“Shiners has been there for us through the years in every possible way whether it’s help getting a new wheelchair faster or help talking to our insurances company about Alyssa’s needs, or even just getting a doctor’s note for school,” said Anna. “Shriners is always there.”
Alyssa is looking forward to starting her junior year in high school and plans to study engineering in college. For now, her focus is hanging out with her friends and practicing the sport she loves. She is currently working on mastering a hand-plant and aims to be the first woman to do a backflip on resin in a wheelchair. Her dream is to become sponsored by an adaptive sports chair company.
“Today, the sky is the limit for Alyssa thanks to the Shriners team. They’ve always focused on what’s possible,” said Anna.
And, other than the backflip, what does Alyssa hope to accomplish in the world of skating?
“Maybe someday I’ll be at a level where I’ll need to skate against the boys,” said Alyssa. “And then I can coach other girls just like me.”