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Michigan girl with cystic fibrosis finds joy in horseback riding, inspires community

Posted at 1:17 PM, Sep 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-13 13:17:35-04

(WSYM)  — When Ellenor Kavanaugh was born and diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, the family’s whole world stopped.

"You have a diagnosis that is chronic, so there's no cure. It's progressive, so as she gets older, it will get worse. And so when you kind of have a time stamp on things like that, you kind of tend to panic as a parent," said Louise Kavanaugh, Ellenor's mother.

Ellenor’s father, Adam, jumped from the auto industry into the medical field and her mother Louise, who had spent her entire life around horses, closed the door to it all.

"I said we're selling everything and she's never going to see a horse. It's not going to be part of our lifestyle, because of the dust and the dirt and the hay, and all those things that are not conducive to a lung disease and lung illness," said Louise.

But then something happened.

"As she got older, she would go to the bottom of the toy barrel and find every horse, every book she would point out every horse. And I looked at my husband and we both were like, 'oh, no, I think she's got this horse bug,'" said Louise.

So at the age of 3, the family got Ellenor a pony named Mini Cooper. She went on to win championships, and now rides every single day.

"It makes me feel happy and it makes me feel better about my CF," said Ellenor.

And the Kavanaughs say it’s good physical therapy, something Emily Schaller, a family friend and founder of Rock CF, knows a thing or two about.

"Exercise actually extends life. It helps maintain or improve lung function, plus the benefits of exercise, especially me with running and cycling, but Ellenor with horseback riding and horse shows, it gives you that sense of normalcy," said Emily.

Now at 7 years old, Ellenor describes what her day is like living with CF.

"In the morning, I have to get on shakes ... and then it's hooked up to this giant machine with these tubes that hook up to here, then it just makes the vest puff up and then it shakes. And then in the morning when I eat, I have to take these pills ... enzymes," said Ellenor.

Her mother adds, "she's sat like four months, if you add it all up, like four or five months of her entire life, just sitting on her machine, doing her breathing treatments."

And because of COVID-19, Ellenor will homeschool this year, but the Kavanaughs say if anyone was ready for a pandemic, it was the CF community. Mask wearing, social distancing and quarantining are things they're used to.

"Sometimes when people are wearing masks, it's like people say, 'it's like so hot.' And I'm like, 'I'm really used to this. So I don't really feel what you're feeling, I'm sorry,'" said Ellenor.

Despite the challenges that the pandemic and CF bring, Ellenor keeps a sunny outlook through it all.

"Even in the face of tears, there is always the happiness and giggling. So when things are hard for me, they're not hard for her. So that's one of the big things, is that kids can be a lot stronger than we think they are," said Louise.

Ellenor is an inspiration to many, so much so that Emily decided to name a shirt after her for the Rock CF Foundation.

"You just meet kids sometimes or even adults when their spirit is so cool and so powerful. So with Ellenor, we had to do the most popular design in a very cute color for her because she's so great," said Emily.

And the proceeds help Rock CF continue to raise awareness, fund research and send shoes to the CF community all over the country to help encourage an active lifestyle.

To help support Rock CF or to learn more, click here.