BY JIM ARRIGON, COACH OF OHIO UNIVERSITY EQUESTRIAN
By Jim Arrigon, Coach, Ohio University Equestrian
I’ve coached her since 6th grade and we’ve never been prouder of a ribbon. Twelve days after brain surgery, Madeline Davis, the Ohio University rider who won the Open Fences at the first two Tournament of Champions shows this season, came back to compete at the final IHSA show of the year at Ohio State. She didn’t just participate… she was 3rd Place of twelve good open riders, and she qualified for Regionals.
As everyone in the arena held their collective breath and hoped and prayed for the best, with most of her family and much of her old Beckett Run IEA team there to watch, Maddie stood at the gate and stared at the jumps for what seemed like an unusually long time. Most of her Ohio U teammates were in the mounting area with her (they probably would not have allowed that under any normal circumstance) as she prepared. She walked out onto the jump course, picked up a canter and did what she does as easily as breathing. She nailed it. Then she walked out the gate and asked her teammates, “Did I jump them right?”
During the first week of the second semester, Maddie was having bad headaches – not unusual for her but this one was different, and she went to the local small-town hospital. They saw a weird spot on her brain scan and she was sent to the bigger trauma canter in Dayton, later to end up in Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus. After more than three weeks in a hospital bed and an invasive brain biopsy, she was officially diagnosed with a brain tumor, which she named “Earl” (reference to Dixie Chicks song “Goodbye Earl”, in which a woman ultimately murders her abusive husband… that would be Earl. The action line in the song comes when she declares that “Earl MUST DIE!” – cue the applause and confetti cannons.) For weeks, riders all around the IHSA and IEA have been wearing “Goodbye Earl” lapel pins with the grey brain cancer awareness ribbon. An average human being spends up to two weeks in the hospital following the same brain surgery. Maddie was walking the halls by the second morning, was sent home after two days, and was jumping a horse a couple days later.
Maddie’s doctors are supportive of her pursuing a “normal” lifestyle and amazingly cleared her to compete at Ohio State less than two weeks following brain surgery. She needed a larger new coat and roomier breeches, the effect of a month of steroid treatments. She also had a bit of a brain- fog – that shouldn’t have shocked me less than two weeks after having a person’s hands inside her skull, but it did. “Focused” was probably not the depiction I would use. We walked the course and calculated striding, then discussed it again. And again. Re-calculated striding. And again and again. Maddie’s biggest fear was that she would embarrass herself by going off course. We repeated the course twenty times and corrected her memory a couple times. Then she stepped in and did it. She rides more naturally than walking or talking.
Madeline will be back in the hospital this week, first to collect her eggs, giving her the option of having children after this battle is complete. She will then immediately start chemo treatments, which means up to a month more in the hospital. The normal person will be disabled for several weeks until it is time to start another round of chemo. Maddie says to give her a few days, then she wants me at her house to get her ready to ride at Regionals. After chemo and Regionals comes radiation – Earl must die! – and ultimately the surgeon will go back into her brain to physically pluck Earl from his perch between a tangle of veins and nerves.
Maddie, whose parents own a hunter training barn of their own, grew up riding with Jim and Gwen Arrigon at Beckett Run Farm in Cincinnati, and was the first student in IEA history to compete at IEA Nationals 7 years in a row, in addition to winning an individual National Championship and team National Championship. She started riding at Randolph College, before transferring to Ohio University last year. In four seasons, she rode in all but one Tournament and was at three IHSA Nationals, winning a Reserve National Championship over fences two years ago. She was also a varsity women’s soccer player for Randolph. She had her Ohio U team in 1st Place in the region until she was benched by Earl in January. She won Open Fences twice at Tournament this year and placed 2nd and 3rd in High Medal in the first two Tournaments.
She is amazing. She has super powers. All I care about is being at her wedding one day. I hope to be at her baby’s birthday party. You get the point. It sets riding into proper perspective.
We would like to invite you to membership in the “Mighty Madeline” facebook page.