With each finish line Valerie Stover crosses, she reminds those around her where she started.
Valerie, a 15-year-old cross country and track and field runner at Griffin Christian High, has cerebral palsy, a neurological disorder that affects communication between the brain and muscles. Because of the condition, Valerie has been through various forms of rehabilitation.
"We pretty much knew right away that she was going to have problems," Valerie's mom, Monica Stover, said. "When she was 4 months old, she started physical therapy. She's 15 and still going."
When Valerie was born, she was jaundiced and her bilirubin count, a fluid made by the liver, had reached a critical level. This caused a form of brain dysfunction called kernicterus, which can often result in cerebral palsy and hearing loss.
Her doctors weren't sure how long she'd live. Once she was stabilized in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), her doctors were concerned that she may never be able to walk or talk.
Through physical therapy at Children's, Valerie built the strength she needed to stabilize her torso so she could walk and eventually run. Through speech therapy, she developed her ability to listen and speak.
"It was devastating," Monica said. "She was delayed in everything she did. There has been a lot to learn."
Valerie faced many difficulties as a result of her cerebral palsy. Each time an issue arose, Children's provided the appropriate therapy to address the challenge.
She came out better and stronger at the end of each round of therapy.
"She has to deal with being different at school," Monica said. "Anything we do, she has to work three times as hard to do it. She struggled but now she is in a regular classroom and is on the honor roll.
Beating a New Obstacle
Valerie's most recent challenge was being diagnosed with scoliosis. The curve of her spine wasn't severe enough to require bracing, but she started a new round of physical therapy in January. The goal of this round was to strengthen her core muscles to prevent the curve from progressing.
"She was always motivated," said Barbara Ann Smith, Physical Therapist at Children's at Fayette. "She is such a hard worker and she never complains."
Barbara discharged Valerie from physical therapy June 17, 2013. The 15-year-old had the rest of the summer to focus on her upcoming cross country season.
Finding Her Sport
On top of helping her stay in shape and strengthen her body, running has given Valerie something just as important: confidence.
"That has been very important," Barbara said. "She found something that she can do and she loves it."
Fox 5 Sports featured Valerie in April for her efforts on the track. Her mother refers to her as a "little celebrity." Barbara asked Valerie for her autograph the last time she saw her.
Valerie has big plans for her future, including participating in an Ironman triathlon one day.
"We are very blessed and thankful," Monica said. "Her future is unlimited. She can do whatever she wants to do."