Holy Family student ready to represent the United States

Riley Ljungdahl new it would be hard, and never thought she'd get there this quickly

The head and the heart were not affected.

“She literally went from walking to not being able to feel her legs, completely paralyzed, in 45 minutes.” Karen Ljungdahl said.

Karen is the one that points out that her daughter's head and heart are just fine, but Riley did lose the ability to walk. The able bodied 11-year-old swung a softball bat in 2011 and fell to the ground. Transverse Myelitis is the fancy term that basically means swelling on her spine. But what caused it?

It's still unknown.

“It’s a little disheartening," Riley said. "At first I wanted to know what was wrong with me. Right now though it’s fun, I can make up a story like I was in a shark attack.”

As you can tell, her attitude is just fine, and has been pretty much since she left the hospital in the chair that will not  limit her.

“It’s all about what’s in here," Karen said pointing to her head, "and in here (pointing to chest).”

9NEWS first met Riley in 2013 as she made her transition in to competitive wheel chair basketball. Back then her head and her heart came together on a vision.

“I do have goals," Riley said as a 13-year-old. "My goal is to one day, go to the Paralympics and win a gold.”

There it was. Her sights set on a marker, but by no means a short-term one.

“No way. No. I didn’t think it would happen so soon. I knew I wanted to do it but I didn’t think I would get to that point a couple of years down the road,” Riley told 9NEWS in the Holy Family High School gymnasium.

This January, at just 16 years old, Riley was accepted as just one of 32 athletes to try out for the Paralympic team. Great experience for a young player, but that was probably it.

“She called me and was just as calm as anything and i said 'So how did it go?'," Karen said. "I was expecting that answer to be no and she said, 'Mom I did it.' I said 'What!', and she said 'I made the cut of 16.' I just started screaming as loud as I could on the phone.”

That was eventually cut to the final roster of 12. Riley did it again, and had to call mom.

"I screamed again,” Karen said laughing.

In late May, Riley made the trip to the Olympic training center in Colorado Springs for camp. She is the youngest player on 2017 Paralympic team by four years.

She’s now playing with some of the best in the world. This team is training for the Americas cup in Colombia this summer.

“Very strenuous. Constant pushing, constant scrimmaging," Riley said at the Olympic Training Center. "In the end it’s so much fun when you’re around people you like to do it with. So it’s not really considered hard work anymore.”

The National Team hosts tryouts every January. So Riley has a long way to go before the Paralympics three years from now.

“I’m completely content with trying out every year because I know I’m just 16 and I’ll just get better,” Riley said.

She wants to be on the team that goes to Tokyo in 2020 to defend Gold. Only strengthened by her injury and what she’s been through since, Riley’s head and heart have once again set a goal.

© 2017 KUSA-TV


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