Heather Long, Special Olympian

She's a very determined young woman who shakes off set-backs and focuses on her goals, including the Illinois Special Olympics.
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She's a very determined young woman who shakes off set-backs and focuses on her goals, including the Illinois Special Olympics.

Heather Long is a special 16-year-old girl, as she demonstrated when she competed in the Illinois Special Olympics this spring in Springfield.

Heather has overcome many physical limitations and surgeries. When she began in a therapeutic riding program six years ago she required a horse handler and two sidewalkers. But her determination and hard work have allowed her to progress and now ride independently. She competes in the Dressage B-1. She has also competed at open horse shows. People are always impressed when they see her riding ability and sportsmanship.

TAR syndrome (Thrombocytopenia with Absent Radii) has given Heather many setbacks, but the fact that she has survived into her teens gives her a good chance of having a normal lifespan. Heather has no forearms and extremely short upper arms. Last year she had one leg fused and still managed to prepare herself for the Special Olympics in only five weeks -- and still take the gold medal. This year Heather had only six weeks preparation, due to a massive blood clot in one of her legs. But with her unstoppable drive, she managed to win a gold medal in a walk/trot class with compulsory figures, and a silver in her dressage class, a USDF introductory Level Test 2.

When she came out of the dressage ring, Heather felt that she had not done as well as she hoped, and was stunned at the announcement that she had won the class. Then came a complete reversal. The judge had mixed up the test sheets. Heather had to trade her gold medal for the silver. In a typical (for Heather) display of sportsmanship, she presented the gold medal to the rightful owner with a smile and genuine congratulations.

Heather was also the recipient of the first George H. Morris award. Morris, who died last year, was very active in the North American Handicap Riding Association. In his memory, his family created a special award to be given each year to the Special Olympic rider who has given back to the community.

Heather is active in community efforts such as collecting and handing out blankets to the poor, and is vice president of the youth group of Our Savior Lutheran Church, which does much work to help the needy.

Heather was one of 18 special riders who went to the games this year from Sunrise Therapeutic Riding Center. The team brought home six golds, seven silvers, four bronzes, two fourth place, and one fifth place medal.

The Sunrise Therapeutic Riding Center (815-932-6170) is located in St Annes, Kankakee, IL. Karen Hemza is the owner and operator of the farm and the not-for-profit center.