The Ursuline Lions middle school cross country team decided early this season there was one rule they wouldn’t break: No runner would cross the finish line alone.
The rule became a promise when sixth-grade Skip Caydance Anderson joined the team. Diagnosed with cerebral palsy as an infant, everyone knows Caydance has a fearless streak.
“She doesn’t let her anything stop her. If you tell her not to try something, she’ll do the opposite. She’s always looked at challenges and pushed past them,” said her mother, Candice Anderson, a Merry Mac and Ursuline girl herself, who left the school her senior year for the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts.
It’s just that despite her lion’s heart, Caydance’s body can’t keep up like everyone else’s. Things take her a little longer, like running.
“I didn’t care,” said Lions’ Coach Macy Boten, Skip of 2016. “She was going to be on that team.”
Caydance spoke to the coach during tryouts. She told her she was used to hard physical work – she has had physical therapy since infancy, after all. She asked again after tryouts. She asked and asked. “She really wanted to be on the team,” Boten said.
“Everyone has something, some you can see and some you don’t,” Caydance said, something she has learned from her family over the years. “Practice makes possibilities.” So she waited, patiently.
“I told her to come to practices while we made a decision,” said Boten, who is “Coach Macy” to her team.
“At first we were surprised,” Caydance’s mom said. “Cross-country? I wasn’t sure. So I reminded Caydance that she had a busy schedule, thinking she’d put it aside. But she was determined.”
Ursuline administrators were open to the idea, and the Andersons supportive – Caydance had been on a soccer team before along with her twin sister, Penelope, also an Ursuline girl (There also is a younger sister, Angelica, Sioux of 2029). They were encouraged she could race, too. Boten was determined to have Caydance on the team.
There were natural concerns: Would Caydance be safe? Could her body handle the physical toll of long-distance running? Boten, who had experience through Jo Jo’s Hope, a charity that runs aquatic programs for those with mental and physical challenges, was certain Caydance could do it.
While the school agreed, one of her parents had to be with Caydance at all practices and meets.
“My husband completely reworked his whole work schedule just so he could be there,” said Anderson. And that was a comfort for Caydance, too, who was a little worried about being alone behind the pack.
And that’s when a team full of spirited middle schoolers began running together every day. They were becoming a family. There were times the training was hard. Caydance complained she was tired. But Boten wasn’t having it.
“There wasn’t one time when I didn’t push her as hard as I pushed any other girl,” said Boten. “Yes, there were times where she was tired. Yes, it took her a little longer. But she did abs with us, she ran with us, she did drills with us. She’s on the team. She can do it.”
Her mom noticed, too. Caydance would come home sore, and linger a little longer under hot showers, which soothed her muscles.
By late September, the team had a few meets under their belts. And Boten and the Andersons started to notice something wonderful: The rule-turned-promise was now a bond.
While Caydance was always the last to cross the finish line, she was never alone. Her teammates would finish the race, circle back, and run alongside her. As they neared the finish, groups of Ursuline girls were cheering “Caydance! Caydance!”
“I was so proud of them,” Boten said. “I thought, ‘this is it, they get it, they’ve become a team.’ ”
By the middle of the season, other schools noticed, too. During meets, young women on other teams joined Ursuline’s girls. A pack of teens and parents from all over the city were routinely rooting Caydance across the finish line.
“She didn’t finish one race alone,” said Anderson. “Her teammates were so awesome. They were all screaming for her to finish, and every other school would come back and scream for her, too.”
And Caydance noticed too. “It’s been amazing. And I love it.”
Her story caught the eye of local TV producers, too. A video of her finishing a race aired on WGNO-TV on the station’s “Friday Night Football” segment. In it, a crowd cheers her on. Before she crosses the finish, Caydance stumbles on a muddy patch, someone goes to help – and Boten shoos them away. Caydance has got this. The tiny sixth grader gets up on her own, finishes the race, smiles and high-fives her coach.
“She inspires the whole team, and beyond that, she inspires others, too,” Boten said. “She’s the embodiment of Ursuline’s motto, ‘CLC: Courtesy, Loyalty, Courage.’ The courage alone that it took for her to try out, and then to stay on the team. She has a bright future, and she can do anything.”
Candice Anderson has another point-of-view. Caydance is courageous; she was brave on the soccer field and in cross-country, and with her angelic voice, is able to belt out the most beautiful songs before crowds as a singer with the New Orleans Children’s Chorus. It’s just that others don’t always see beyond the physical uniqueness.
“Coach Macy changed Caydance’s life,” Anderson said. “She’s stronger physically. She’s still running every day with her Dad. She has the confidence to do whatever she wants. And I really give her coach credit for what she’s done for this little girl and the team.”