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Stacey's Story

Training 4 times a week, Stacey is the epitome of a dedicated athlete.  She lives what many of us preach:  practice, stay fit, eat well and get plenty of rest...she knows the devotion and formula needed to excel in sports.  And excel is what Stacey does, winning numerous National and International titles in Equestrian Sports.

Stacey Johnson and Lili 2

Unlike most able-bodied athletes, Stacey has reached the pinnacle of her sport despite the fact that she lives with disabilities that would prevent most people from even walking.    Born with Van Buchem disease, which leads to thickness of the bones and skull, Stacey has endured the challenges of someone with a significant development disability.  She has struggled with impaired motor and cognitive skills, and a significant hearing impairment.    To further magnify her challenges, in 1999, Stacey was required to have surgery to remove pressure on her brain caused by the overgrowth of her skull.  During the surgery something went horribly wrong, and she came out of recovery unable to walk or even sit up on her own.  Following a grueling nine months rehabilitation regime, it was deemed that Stacey had reached "maximum medical improvement" and would have to use a walker or a wheelchair for the rest of her life. 

William Ward is quoted "Adversity causes some men to break; other to break records"   Stacey and her family endorses the later. Martha, Stacey’s mother, states “We knew that Stacey had the potential to recover, and that therapeutic horseback riding was the key to her getting better”.   Stacey’s family, living in San Antonio at the time, made arrangements to fly her to Dallas weekly for therapy at Equest Therapeutic Horsemanship, located in Wylie.   To the amazement of the medical community, Stacey began to strengthen quickly.   “The horse’s gait is like the human’s gait,” says Stacey, “it strengthens your core and leg muscles.”    Stacey mother said that the turning point was when she received news so unbelievable, she literally had to sit down, “I received a call from the therapeutic riding instructor at Equest stating not only was Stacey riding independently, but just months after starting equine therapy, she had taken the horse over a jump all by herself!   I was completely shocked – I put my daughter on a flight in a wheelchair and then I get this wonderful news!   I knew at that point that Stacey was going to learn to walk again.”

Stacey Johnson

Stacey became bound and determined to not only walk again, but to compete as an equestrian athlete.  With the love of her family, in combination with dedicated instructors and volunteers at Equest and sheer determination, she began to walk again.  Stacey never looked back.  She has forged ahead as strong as ever:  training, competing, and volunteering in the name of Equest Therapeutic Horsemanship. 

 After years of hard work, Stacey has surpassed every goal she set for herself, winning more blue ribbons and gold medals then anyone can count, including a gold and bronze medal at the 2003 Special Olympic World Games in Ireland, and the Rider of the Year award for PATH International.    If all that wasn’t enough to fill the trophy case, Stacey’s 2013 competition season culminated with two more prestigious awards.  She won 4 National High Point Awards for the American Quarter Horse Association in the Riders with Disabilities Category – a record number for any rider in a single year - plus Stacey was honored as the Special Olympics Female Athlete of the Year for the State of Texas! In her nomination for the Athlete of the Year award, Stacey’s Special Olympic coach and instructor asserted that,   “Stacey is one of the most incredible people that I know and most deserving of the honor.  Although many in the competition world know her by name, they all remember her by her heart for persevering, sportsmanship and giving back.”

In addition to her ongoing support of Equest Therapeutic Horsemanship, Stacey is also an Ambassador for the Special Olympics Program.   On many occasions, she has represented Special Olympics as a speaker, captivating her audiences.  She has addressed many national leaders such as U.S.  Secretary of State Madeline Albright, Senator Ted Kennedy, Congressman Pete Sessions and Texas Attorney General Gregg Abbott and gained their support for athletes with disabilities. 

An Equest volunteer also wrote a nomination for the Special Olympic Athlete of the Year Award stating, “Stacey is an athlete, volunteer, a spokesperson and most importantly an active and contributing member of our North Texas society.  Stacey doesn’t let her disability interfere with what she wants to accomplish, she is able to achieve her dreams despite the hurdles and wakes each morning ready to give her best.”

To donate to Equest in honor of Stacey, click here.