Sydney Collier is quickly gaining recognition as the youngest rider to compete in the World Equestrian Games at just 17 years old, and was recently honored as the youngest leading para-dressage rider in the U.S.! Knowing this, it might be surprising to hear that she lives with paralysis, partial blindness, and a very rare condition known as Wyburn-Mason Syndrome.
Collier explained the disorder a bit more in-depth:
Less than 100 people have [this disease]. It’s a birth defect where the veins and arteries deep in my brain didn’t separate with capillaries. It leads to this tumor-like area deep in my brain that has a huge risk of bleeding. I also have a tumor behind my right eye. That’s caused me to go completely blind in my right eye and half-blind in my left eye. It’s mostly diagnosed after people pass away from a massive bleed. We were really lucky we caught it.
But it wasn’t her extreme ability to overcome the odds that caught the world’s eye at the Games, rather, it was her service-dog, Journey. Journey is a Standard Poodle who helps Collier cope with her paralysis:
He helps me walk–he walks alongside me and acts like my cane. If I’m about to fall, he’ll brace all his muscles and keep me from falling. He picks up things that I drop, he can open and close doors for me, turn on and off lights, open and close cabinets… and if I fall he’ll find my mom.
While the idea of owning a Poodle had the Colliers abound with images of the Eiffel Tower, Journey turned out to be one-of-a-kind. Collier even jokes that her dog knows more things than she does!
Even her horse, Wentworth, has a soft spot for the pup. “When I get off Wentworth, Journey runs right up to him and licks out his nostrils. It’s a little bit personal–but Wentworth obviously likes it.” And who wouldn’t like a good nose-licking?!
At this year’s para-dressage competition, Kai Handt, head of the U.S. team, talked to CNN about Journey being “more famous than the rider” despite her crazy-good equestrian skills:
They even gave the dog official credentials. He got plastered all over the press. It was different–but it gets people to read about it and have a laugh. It doesn’t have to be all that serious when you have a teenage rider out there competing, you can have some fun.
When Sydney was diagnosed, it was the result of her mother making an appointment with an ophthalmologist on a whim, where she received quite a scare. After taking a look in her eyes and suddenly leaving the room, the doctor returned and said, “I don’t know if I should call an ambulance but something is very wrong behind her eye.”
Early on, doctors simply told the family to take Sydney home and pray, but with the early find and the help of Journey, Sydney is living a remarkably exciting life. We wish Sydney good luck at next year’s Paralympics, and Journey a good hair day–work it for the press, pup!