Kennewick woman back in saddle after serious illness

KENNEWICK -- Roxanne Trunnell walked up the platform's steps with help from her father, Sid.

Touche, the Dutch warmblood horse she's ridden for years, was mellow in the afternoon heat and hardly stirred as Roxie climbed into the saddle.

"There you go," Sid said as his daughter settled in for the day's ride.

About seven months ago -- the last time a Herald reporter visited Roxie at the Finley ranch where she boards Touche -- the horse was jumpy and Roxie took a tumble from the platform she uses to reach the saddle.

She dusted herself off that day and went on riding -- the story of her life.

But this day, everything seemed a little easier, a little smoother.

Perhaps that's a hint of things to come.

Roxie, 28, is finding success and gaining notice in the para-equestrian world. She recently spent several days at a training symposium in Maine, and she performed so well at a dressage competition in June in California that she's on the path toward qualifying for the national para-equestrian team.

She has her eye on the World Equestrian Games in France next year and then the Paralympics in 2016.

The success feels good, Roxie said.

It follows a trying period for the Kennewick woman and her family. Roxie developed encephalitis in 2009, brought on by an unknown virus. She lapsed into a coma and may have suffered a stroke.

She couldn't talk or walk and spent weeks in the hospital and in-patient rehabilitation.

She's made gains but still has limited mobility, needing a wheelchair or walker.

The Herald last Thanksgiving featured Roxie and her dad in a front-page story, telling of their trips to the Finley ranch, to the park and gym for exercise, to physical therapy.

"We're always out with the walker or the crutches," Sid, a former Hanford Patrol member, told the paper at the time. "We get out and do something every day."

Roxie's family also includes her mom Josette, a nurse practitioner, two sisters and a brother.

Riding has been an important part of Roxie's journey back from illness. She rode dressage before she got sick and was eager to get back in the saddle as soon as she could.

She loves the feeling of riding -- it's fun, she said.

And she has another aim: making an impact in para-dressage.

"No one else in this area does it," she said, and she likes the idea of inspiring others by showing that it can be done.

Much work still lies ahead.

The Trunnells plan to send Touche to California for conditioning, with Roxie traveling there every six to eight weeks to work with two prominent trainers. In between those trips, she'll regularly travel to Spokane to work with a trainer there.

It will be an expensive undertaking, and the family is seeking sponsors and donations.

"We need the community behind us," said Josette, noting Roxie's goal is to represent her country on the world stage.

Riding is good for Roxie, her mother said. And, Roxie has the talent and determination to go far, Josette said, describing her daughter as "the most motivated and hardworking person."

On the recent afternoon in Finley, Roxie guided Touche around an outdoor arena -- making circles, straight lines, stops and starts. Horse and rider were coordinated and precise. They were graceful.

Sid stood off to the side, watching. He talked about the competitions, the training, the future.

"I forget how that saying goes -- if you've got lemons you've got to make lemonade?" he said. "She's making lemonade."

Follow Roxie's journey at www.facebook.com/paraequestrianroxie. Donations can be made at www.gofundme.com/3ewwn0 or through the United States Para-equestrian Association, uspea.org, under Roxie's name.