Girl with severe cerebral palsy will be in triathlon

SHAWNEE, Kan. — A big triathlon will be held at Shawnee Mission Park on Sunday. Any triathlete needing inspiration to keep going will need only to look at one girl and her mom.

Cecilia Niemann watches as her mom uses an air pump to inflate a raft. The 9-year-old who’s had to be a spectator is now getting her chance to compete.

A brain injury after she was born very premature left Cecilia with severe cerebral palsy. Her mom, Debbie, read everything about CP back then.

“I read about this Team Hoyt — father and son who’d done an Ironman together. And I said someday, I’m gonna take her through a triathlon,” says Debbie.

Someday will be this Sunday. They will compete in the UCP Shawnee Mission Triathlon. It’s the first time United Cerebral Palsy has been a partner in that long-running event.

Mother and daughter practice for their 500 meters in the water. Debbie will swim and tow her 55-pound daughter on the raft. Yet it’s not a heavy load.

“I can hear her say momma, go, and the smiles and stuff and anything that’s bothering me just melts away because it’s so inspiring. I think her disability to her kinda disappears for a few moments and she just feels like a normal kid,” says Debbie.

Cecilia will ride in a bike trailer pulled by a family friend for the cycling leg of the triathlon. And her grandmother will push her in a special needs stroller for the run. They’ll compete against another team that includes a child with cerebral palsy.

You get the feeling Cecilia won’t want it to end.

“Go,” Cecilia says to her mom as they reach the shore after practice.

“She wants me to keep going,” says Debbie.

It’s what Cecilia teaches others about life and its challenges. Just keep going.

Debbie is the development coordinator for United Cerebral Palsy of Greater Kansas City. Pledges for Team Cecilia will go to UCP. If you’d like to help, click here.

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