FREDERICK, Md. (AP) – With a 3-and-a-half-year-old daughter suffering from cancer and a 6-year-old son confined to a wheelchair and on a ventilator, Frederick’s Colleen Rutledge needs an outlet to get through the day.
She has found it in eventing, an equestrian sport that involves three events.
She has become so accomplished in the sport that she has a decent shot at making the United States eventing team that will compete in the 2012 Olympics in London.
She and her horse, Shiraz, were recently the fourth-highest American finishers at a prestigious race in Kentucky. Six Americans will be picked for the Olympic team.
“This is what keeps me sane,” the 34-year-old Rutledge said as she stood in a barn at the Turnabout Farm in Howard Country. She owns the farm along with her parents. “When you have a chronically ill child you have no control over anything, you can’t do anything to help your kid.
“This gives me the ability to have some control, an outlet for my panic, my neurosis, for everything. It gives me something to focus on and gives me a very strong connection to what I love.”
As she talked, her daughter, Ciana, ran around the barn and occasionally interrupted her mother. Just two or three months ago, she finished her second round of chemo.
“When she was going through her chemo, she had absolutely no hair and was bald as a cueball, but she was still every active,” her mother said. “It blew them away at Hopkins because she was always happy, always upbeat, always very active.”
Ciana, who has a rare form of muscle cancer, is doing well, her mother said. They still go to Hopkins on a regular basis and were there the day before for a scan.
Her son was born with a brain injury.
“He wasn’t supposed to survive the first week, the first month, the first two months, the first six months and so on and so forth,” Rutledge said.
He will turn 7 in December and is very stable right now.
When she can, Rutledge takes her daughter to her eventing competitions. But it would be hard to take her son because she doesn’t want to take him away from his support group.
“I would love to be happy to have my son come, but because he’s on oxygen it could create a very difficult situation,” she said.
Rutledge also has a 9-year-old daughter and a 16-year-old stepson.
Rutledge, who gives riding lessons on the farm, first began riding when she was 2. It wasn’t long before she was thinking about the Olympics.
When she was around 9, she started competing in eventing.
The sport is also called the horse triathlon and involves dressage (an exact sequence of movement in an enclosed area), cross country (which involves riding anywhere from a mile to 3 1/2 miles amd jumping between 12 to 40 fences) and show jumping (where the horses jump over 15 to 20 fences that are in a ring).
There are four levels, one star through four star. In 2010, Rutledge began riding in three-star competition for the first time.
Her first three-star event was in Bromont, Canada in June. Riding Shiraz, she finished 14th out of 28 riders.
“I was really happy because he was clean, didn’t incur any jumping faults,” she said.
Later in an event in Elkton, she finished 17th out of about 40 riders.
She felt she was ready this year to enter a four-star event, the highest division in the sport.
There are only six four-star events and only one in the United States, the Rolex Kentucky. It was held in Lexington the first week of April. The other five are held in Europe.
She and Shiraz finished 12th overall and fourth among Americans.
“I was floored. Surprised doesn’t cover it,” she said. “It was the biggest show I had even ridden in. I would have just been happy to have finished.”
The finish was important because it got the attention of those who pick the Olympic team.
“You need to be on their radar,” she said.
She did so well she now hopes to ride in a four-star event in Burghley, England, in September. It’s considered the hardest four-star competition in the world.
“My finish at Rolex is the only reason why we are considering going on the trip,” she said. “If we had competed and not done well, then we would have stayed home. But (Shiraz) was utterly fantastic there.”
If she does well in Burghley, she would consider going to another four-star event in England next year or returning to Rolex.
“I’ve very optimistic about going Burghley,” she said. She is currently trying to raise the money to participate in the event. “I have an unbelieveable horse who loves to jump.”
The Olympic team will not be picked until right before the Games are scheduled. She said the selectors take a lot of things into consideration, but a good finish at Burghley after another good one at Rolex will only help her chances.
“Every little kid thinks about the Olympics,” she said. “You think about it, you think about it, think about it. You really don’t believe that it’s going to happen. It’s so much fun, even with that little glimmer.”
And with her finish at Rolex, that glimmer has become a little bit brighter.
Information from: The Frederick (Md.) News-Post, http://www.fredericknewspost.com
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)