Years ago, when she was a student at Highlands Middle School in Kennewick, Roxanne Trunnell put her dream in writing.
She wanted to spend her life with horses and be a top U.S. equestrian one day.
Years later, despite trials big and small — including an illness that nearly killed her — Trunnell, 31, has made that dream a reality.
She’ll represent the U.S. next month at the 2016 Paralympics in Brazil, competing in para-dressage.
“We’re really, really proud,” said her mom, Josette Trunnell. “(She’s been through a lot) and now she’s going to be an Olympian.”
Back in 2009, Roxanne was a recent college graduate making a name for herself in able-bodied dressage riding competitions.
But then she developed encephalitis, or inflammation of the brain, brought on by an unknown virus. She lapsed into a coma and suffered a stroke.
She couldn’t talk, walk or even sit up, and spent weeks in the hospital and in-patient rehabilitation.
The illness has had lasting effects, including on her mobility.
But it hasn’t touched her determination.
About six months after leaving in-patient rehabilitation, Roxie started working with a riding instructor in Burbank.
It was difficult. Roxie’s mind knew what to do, but her body wasn’t cooperating.
Sometimes, it felt like we weren’t making any progress. But every time we discovered something she couldn’t do, we’d figure out how to get her to do it.
Lindy Cogswell, riding instructor
“Sometimes, it felt like we weren’t making any progress. But every time we discovered something she couldn’t do, we’d figure out how to get her to do it,” Lindy Cogswell, the instructor, told the Herald in 2012. “She had no fear. She fell off a couple times, but always was willing to get back on. She always was willing to try everything I asked.”
Roxie eventually began competing in para-dressage, moving up the ranks.
In 2014, she qualified to represent the U.S. at the World Equestrian Games in France. The Herald wrote a story about her then — one of several over the years chronicling her achievements.
“We’ve been working for this for a while,” she told the Herald in the 2014 story, adding, “People shouldn’t give up on their dreams.”
That truth was reinforced for Roxie recently at selection trials for Rio.
She was riding well, but then on the last day her horse “freaked out in the competition ring and we ended up getting an extremely low score,” she told the Herald. “This was an important show, and with having the mess up, (my horse and I) were not selected for the team going to the Paralympics.”
But they were named first alternates, and eventually a slot opened up.
The Paralympics run Sept. 7-18, with equestrian events starting on Sept. 11.
I think the way I achieved my goal was that even though my life has completely changed, I still continue to go out to the stable and ride my horses on a daily basis. I don’t expect people to treat me differently.
Roxanne Trunnell, paralympian
Roxie now lives in Rowlett, Texas.
She and her parents — Josette, a nurse practitioner, and Sid, a former Hanford patrolman — moved to Texas a couple years ago so Roxie could be near a top trainer.
Her brother, Joshua, also moved to Texas. Her sisters, Siobhan Silva and Meghan Ellis, remain in the Tri-Cities.
Roxie said that, in her heart, “I’ll always be a Northwest girl” and she greatly appreciates the love and support she’s been shown by her hometown.
She reflected on the challenges she’s faced, and on what it’s taken to overcome.
“I think the way I achieved my goal was that even though my life has completely changed, I still continue to go out to the stable and ride my horses on a daily basis,” she said. “I don’t expect people to treat me differently. ... I practice as much as I can and I’m constantly working on making my riding better.”
That early passion for horses and riding, that middle schooler’s dream — she’s stayed true to it all.
She’s excited about Rio. And she wants others to know they can achieve their dreams, too.
“If something seems hard or difficult, don’t just give up on it,” she said. “Keep on working and you will have some form of success.”
Roxie is raising money to help with the expense of her trip to Brazil. To help, go to gofundme.com/vva7whgs.