While lounging on the South Carolina Beach, Sara and Bill Parks enjoyed their first family vacation with their 1-year-old daughter, Beth. The sun beat down on their faces, and the humidity tempted them to dip their feet into the cool ocean. On the wet, sandy ground, Beth sat, unable to walk, as she had for these first fifteen months of her life.
Something in that South Carolina air must have called to Beth, pushing her to use her legs for the first time. Maybe it was the heat, maybe it was the rushing waves, or maybe it was the first spark of passion for running that gave her a boost. She could not hold back, and she sprung onto her wobbly, unused feet. All of a sudden, the baby took her first steps across the sand.
Beth, now a sophomore, was born with a condition that caused her hips to be dislocated at birth, Congenital Hip Dysplasia. The thigh bones were not connected to the hip joint, scientifically known as the acetabulofemoral joint. It is a condition that is most common in first-born females, like Beth.
Sara Parks had hip dysplasia as a baby as well. As soon as the doctors told her that Beth needed to see a specialist, she knew it had to be hip dysplasia. The new mother was devastated, placing most of the blame on herself. Still, she was aware that the condition was not life threatening, and she was thankful for that.
Bill, on the other hand, saw the news as his first opportunity to protect his daughter. He had to do what was best for her to keep her healthy. They both wanted know as much as they could about the disease so that they could educate her about it later in life, and so she could grow up with an understanding of her situation.
Treatment for Hip Dysplasia includes putting the baby in a brace, also referred to as a Pavlik Harness, which pulls the legs in. This brace is supposed to eventually push the femur bones back into the hip socket, and it works for 98 percent of all children diagnosed.
Unfortunately, Beth was not part of this 98 percent.
Her right hip was not cured by the brace. Therefore, surgery was the only option. Without it, she would have had a high risk of developing osteoarthritis early in life or even the inability to walk.
Because of the right thigh’s dislocation, it was not growing properly, causing them to have to enlarge that bone using a cadaver. The process consisted of breaking the right femur bone and adding the cadaver to keep it inside the hip joint. The doctors had to reschedule the surgery three times because of uncertainties and an unexpected case of chicken pox.
Finally, on April 15, 1997, at the age of fourteen months, Beth experienced a successful surgery, and she was put in the full body cast, stretching from the chest downward.
“Prior to the cast, she was trying to pull herself up and walk, and now she could no longer try or even crawl for that matter,” said Sara.
The brace limited her mobility, but the cast restrained her completely.
“I developed a need to comfort her and help her heal,” said Bill.
While her mother was more empathetic, Beth’s dad had the fatherly instinct of wanting to protect his daughter. Both parents were very devoted to comforting Beth as a result of her constant need to be carried everywhere, especially in a full body cast for six weeks.
One week before Beth was sitting in the South Carolina sand, she was sitting in a doctor’s office. The doctors had always told Bill and Sara that she would be limited athletically. They were instructed not to let her walk yet, and after what she had been through, no one would have expected her to try.
Beth bounded across the soft sand, stumbled, and fell over, but it did not faze her. She got right back up and kept moving forward.
The first steps of a baby are always a monumental moment for parents, filling them with immeasurable joy. However, these steps filled Sara and Bill with much more than that.
“We were shocked, scared, and excited all at the same time,” said Sara. “But because she was so eager to use her legs, we let her continue to walk.”
What separates her from other teenagers with similar conditions? Where could this passion and this drive possibly have come from?
She has a passion for movement. Her dad was a runner, and her mom was a swimmer. Racing is in her blood.
She played a variety of sports before running, but cheerleading was most restraining. She could not let herself just stand on the sidelines, or stand still at all for that matter.
“Cheerleading was very frustrating.” said Beth, “All I wanted was to run around and play with the boys.”
Running was the perfect sport.
Upon starting sixth grade at Heineman Middle School, she decided to join cross country and track, because she wanted to get involved at the school. Soon after, she realized that she had extraordinary talent as a runner.
“From the beginning, she has faced doctors that repeatedly tell her “no,’” says Bill, “She just doesn’t take no for an answer.”
Despite the fact that she missed out on competing at state for track as a sixth grader by one place, she drove down separately with her dad to support her team, soaking in the experience to prepare herself for her next year.
The trip must have been worthwhile because in seventh grade, she finished sixth in the 800 meter race, third in the 4×400 relay, and second in High Jump at state.
An injury and an unexpected case of swine flu, kept Beth from winning anything individually at state for her last year of Middle School Cross Country. Nevertheless, she still was able to compete in track that year, running her best 400 meter race, and winning third place in the 4×400 with her relay team.
She also participated in pentathlons during the summers before her eighth grade and freshman years with the Amateur Athletic Union, the USA Track and Field Youth National Championship, and the ESPN Rise Games in Disney World. A pentathlon includes 100 meter hurdles, long jump, shot put, high jump, and an 800 meter race. She came in third place at both of these national competitions as a freshman.
Beth and her friend, Delaney Loprieno, were the only freshmen to make the varsity cross country team. She ran the 5k race in 18 minutes and 39 seconds last year at sectionals – the second best time on Huntley’s team. Even at a young age, she helped lead the team to be second in conference and second at regionals. In track, she and her relay team also set the school and conference record for the 4 by 400 race: Four minutes flat.
However, these wins came with some excruciating pain.
Her parents and doctors have always made it a priority for her to be aware of specific pains. This way, if something in her joint is out of place, it can be identified and fixed, instead of unnoticed and overworked. The worst pain that Beth has ever suffered in her hip occurred in the fall of eighth grade
“I was running around in the grass next to my house,” said Beth, “And all of a sudden, my right hip just popped.” She sat out for a week of cross country and when the pain continued, she went to her regular pediatrician. Dr. Robert Bielski has been a close friend to the Parks family since Beth’s first appointment when she was three days old.
“He recommended that I stop running long distances, but I’ve known him for so long, and he knew that that wasn’t going to happen,” said Beth. “So he said just rest it and continue what I’m doing, but to be careful.”
“It is a very painful sport,” said Beth, “everything is burning.” This is true especially for cross country and long-distance runners. The most difficult part of cross country was the training. By the end of each workout, the pain in her hip would be almost unbearable. The first time Beth finished a full workout, she wallowed in a personal sense of accomplishment.
“There is no pain when it’s fun,” said Beth. Her hip’s discomfort is not as prominent when Beth is running for leisure, which is why she enjoys long runs in the woods and scenic areas.
“I determine how well I do so there are no excuses,” said Beth, “If I want to be good, then I know that I can be by working hard, and no one can stop me.” Even after a bad race, she is still thankful that she has to ability to run at all.
“The condition that I have is just a part of me. I see people without legs, and even they can still run,” says Beth, “Why not me?”
“If I couldn’t run, I really don’t know what I would do,” said Beth.
“She definitely has a personality to succeed” said Sara. Her parents believe that this trait has given her the ability overcome and achieve so much.
Beth embraces the gifts she has been given and disregards the obstacles that block her path, jumping over them like hurdles and sprinting towards more success.
“It comes right out of the story at the beach,” said Bill, “She just gets up and goes.”