Wearing a bright red cowboy hat, Madison Walker had a big smile on her face as classmates excitedly gathered around her to pose for a team photo.
The Grade 3/4 students at Meadows School call themselves "Maddy’s Mustangs," and they will be riding for Maddy in Saturday’s Westman Cerebral Palsy Stationary Bike Race.
"Maddy’s not just our friend, she’s part of our family in this class," said 10-year-old Kaitlyn Swain.
Maddy, 9, was born with cerebral palsy and has special needs. She has been attending Meadows since kindergarten and is fully integrated into the classroom.
"The kids have embraced her and they don’t see her as Maddy in the wheelchair, it’s just Maddy," said her mother Meredith Walker. "That’s what has been such a positive thing for us."
Cerebral palsy is a condition marked by impaired muscle co-ordination and/or other disabilities, typically caused by damage to the brain before or at birth.
Karleigh Harvey-Zenk and Tana Janzen are the classroom teachers. Harvey-Zenk said one of the benefits of inclusion in the classroom is that it reflects the real world.
"We all have strengths and differences and it is important for children to learn to support their friends for their individuality," she said. "Learning about caring and compassion is an important component of social education."
Maddy’s mother said raising a child with cerebral palsy can be a challenge for parents and families, but it has also been an "amazing journey" so far.
"Madison didn’t statistically really have a good prognosis initially because of the severity of her brain injuries," Walker said. "So what she’s been able to accomplish is remarkable and it’s partly because of the sheer determination of Madison."
Walker said the family (father Bart, brothers Whyatt, 11, and Morgan, 8) has learned to appreciate the small things and celebrate milestones that other people take for granted.
"Like a first word, Maddy didn’t have hers until she was probably four," she said. "Every day for Madison is an accomplishment. There’s always something new."
The Walker family has made it a tradition to get involved in the stationary bike event, and are thrilled that 14 of Maddy’s classmates have put a team together for the 21st annual fundraiser for the Cerebral Palsy Association of Manitoba.
"What those kids are doing is amazing," Walker said.
Maddy’s class has also put on a few other fundraisers for the Cerebral Palsy Association. They held a hotdog day and a treat sale last month.
"We’re helping people with a disability and we can make a difference in their life," said Allan Gibbs, 9, one of Maddy’s Mustangs.
Logan Craig, 9, is looking forward to the event and helping out his friend.
"She likes hugging me and I push her (wheelchair) sometimes," Craig said. "I read with her … I really like Maddy."
The Brandon Sun visited the Grade 3/4 class this week, who had made team hats for the event. Maddy said she will be cheering on the riders on Saturday.
Harvey-Zenk said the class will be giving at least $1,500 to the Cerebral Palsy Association that they’ve collected through the events as well as pledges.
"I’m really proud of them, they have worked hard and they have shown a kindness and a sense of community, " Harvey-Zenk said. "Showing empathy and support for another student makes me really proud of them. They truly are her friends and enjoy spending time with her, and I think it just says a lot about who they are as people."
The stationary bike race happens on Saturday at The Town Centre from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
David Kron, program and membership director with the Cerebral Palsy Association of Manitoba, says it’s wonderful to see such young children rallying together for a friend.
"Most people think kids are all about themselves, and it just goes to prove that no, it’s all about the kid next door to them," he said.
All the funds raised for the local event stay in Westman, Kron added. Funds go to things like scholarships and equipment.
"Equipment helps. It really changes their lives and when we can help get them that equipment at an early age and as adults, it really does help," Kron said.
According to CPAM, there are approximately 50,000 people in Canada living with cerebral palsy. Worldwide the prevalence is about one in 500 births. Here in Manitoba, there are about 33 births per year.