Inspirational junior wins first championship since leukaemia treatment ended

  • A 10-year-old girl who is in remission after two and a half years of treatment for leukaemia won her first championship last weekend — on the same day her sister also topped the podium.

    Maddison Harris and 20-year-old mare Killaloe Gypsy took the 11 and under title at Weston Lawns on Sunday (19 July), while 12-year-old Isabelle (pictured, below) won the 128cm championship on Whistletown Bluebell.

    Proud mum Lauren told H&H it was fantastic to see both her daughters do so well, especially after a tough few years, during which time having the ponies and shows to go to has helped keep the family going.

    “It was a really good weekend,” she said. “Maddie was diagnosed when she was seven, and had years of treatment, so for her to win was just amazing.”

    Maddie had been riding since the age of three and had just started British Showjumping competition when she was diagnosed, having complained of a sore back.

    Lauren explained Maddie had suffered a broken back owing to the leukaemia, which confined her to a wheelchair for about 18 months, during which time she was also undergoing chemotherapy, at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford.

    “We didn’t have a clue; she had no bruising or other signs so it was a shock when she was diagnosed,” Lauren said. “Maddie was in hospital all the time for about six months; she had to have lumbar punctures every week, and bone marrow biopsies — but she smiled, the whole way through.”

    Isabelle was only nine when her sister was diagnosed but she kept Maddison’s ponies fit and competed them, which gave the family something to focus on.

    “Issy was very young and they don’t really understand at that age but hear cancer and fear the worst,” Lauren said. “Riding has been the saviour for us all.”

    Maddie also started a fundraising campaign; Don’t stare, it’s only hair, encouraging people to shave their heads, to raise awareness of children undergoing chemotherapy, and in aid of young people’s cancer charity CLIC Sargent. She raised over £40,000 in a year, over £50,000 in total, and was named JustGiving young fundraiser of the year in 2018.

    She was invited to 10, Downing Street, and to the New York Stock Exchange to ring the bell that signifies the start of the day’s trading.

    “She’s turned a negative into a positive,” Lauren said. “Then she went into remission in January this year.”

    Maddie had been back in the saddle for some months by then, jumping in the mini major classes at Bolesworth and Liverpool 2019.

    “She got back into it as soon as possible as it’s what she loves doing,” Lauren said.

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    “She’s got a safe pony, who we know inside out; she’d have chemo in the morning and be jumping the mini major in the afternoon.

    “We had to be careful she didn’t do too much but she loved it; stopping her riding was not going to happen.’

    Weston Lawns was the girls’ first post-lockdown show and also Maddie’s first championship win, and Lauren said it was a very proud day, a double celebration with Isabelle’s win.

    “Everyone was cheering her on her lap of honour; most people on the circuit know her story and got behind her.

    “It was also scary though, as she went round at about a million miles per hour!”

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