Childhood Leukemia Survivor Qualifies for US Young Horse Championships, Aims to Give Back To Kids Cancer Foundation
In 2003 at the age of 18, only barely still considered a child by medical standards, Amy Speck-Kern was diagnosed with Acute Myleoid Leukemia. Last week, she and the five-year-old KWPN mare Gerona were officially selected to compete at the 2016 Markel/USEF Young Horse Championships, marking a major milestone in her dressage career. And now, as a tribute to the doctors, nurses, counselors, and support teams that helped her conquer the disease and have the chance to live her passion as a dressage rider and trainer, Speck-Kern has launched a Go Fund Me page to benefit the Kids Cancer Foundation and help her reach the prestigious championships.
Read more about Amy’s journey to qualify for Young Horse and how her passion for dressage gave her the drive to fight for her life below. Be sure to visit the Go Fund Me page set up to help cover the costs of shipping horses and humans to compete at Lamplight, and where half of all the proceeds go to the Kids Cancer Foundation!
M-M-M-My Gerona: Amy Speck-Kern Secures Invitation to Markel/USEF Young Horse Dressage National Championships
Fairburn, GA (August 5, 2016) – Displaying the rhythm and impulsion indicative of an exceptional young dressage horse and worthy of comparison to The Knack’s rock’n’roll classic My Sherona, the elegant bay KWPN mare Gerona strutted to victory in both days of showing at Chattahoochee Hills Dressage, held July 16 & 17, 2016. With Amy Speck-Kern of Excel Dressage in the saddle, Gerona (Tango x Odessa x Junior STV) was awarded a 7.900 to top the FEI 5-Year-Old test on Sunday. Combined with the pair’s past score of 7.840 for a total of 7.870, the average landed them in the top 15 on the 2016 Markel/USEF 5-Year-Old Young Horse Championship Ranking List and secured them an invitation to compete against the nation’s top young horses at Lamplight Equestrian Center.
Despite being only recently imported to the United States, Gerona has proven her mettle and poise in the dressage arena. In the mare’s debut performance on US soil, Gerona and Speck-Kern scored a 7.840, securing their first qualifying score towards the Markel/USEF Young Horse National Dressage Championships. Speck-Kern, who operates Excel Dressage out of Loxahatchee, Florida, has had less than a month’s worth of preparation following the mare’s arrival and quarantine in the States in May, and was impressed with the young horse’s composure despite long hours in the trailer and a completely new environment at qualifying shows.
“Gerona showed us once again her talent and intelligence,” said Speck-Kern. “The judges were very complimentary of her gaits, especially her trot, which they awarded an 8.6. In the short time I’ve been riding her she has truly blown us away with her composure and brilliance in the arena, and I’m thrilled to have qualified her for the Young Horse Championships!”
Gerona is owned by the Hoog family, and Katie Hoog, who has been purchasing horses from The Netherlands since 2007, scouted the Ster PROK predicated mare on a buying excursion to Holland in March of 2016. In a pressure crunch of time and travel, the decision to purchase the mare was made from only a video and quick lunging session, but that was enough to seal the deal. As a 3-year-old, Gerona won her mare testing with an 82.5%.
“Her three gaits, excellent conformation, and beauty are what originally caught our attention as a potential FEI prospect,” said Hoog. “With the added bonuses of intelligence and character she has everything she needs to be a real contender in the Young Horse divisions. Amy has done a fantastic job getting her qualified in a limited timeframe, and we are looking forward to seeing her in the arena at Lamplight.”
Riding for Research: Amy Speck-Kern’s Journey in Dressage for Cancer Research
In 2003 at the age of 18, only barely still considered a child by medical standards, Amy Speck-Kern was diagnosed with Acute Myleoid Leukemia. Known by the acronym AML, this childhood cancer attacks multiple blood cell types, including red blood cells, platelet-forming cells, and white blood cells other than lymphocytes (when leukemia attacks lymphocytes, it is known as acute lymphoblasic leukemia, or ALL). AML represents only 20% of leukemia diagnoses, so Amy and her doctors realized it would be a challenge to successfully defeat the disease.
“They told us they couldn’t guarantee her next month, next week, or even tomorrow,” says Liz Mikutowski, Amy’s mother. With high school graduation quickly approaching, Amy went onto the course of treatment, a newly devised protocol from the Children’s Oncology Group, for which she was one of the first patients. Previous treatments had a 60% survivor rate for AML, and around the time of Amy’s diagnosis, the survival rate experienced a surge up to 90% thanks to advanced research and development into cures for childhood cancer. The new protocol for Amy featured these advancements, and coupled with diet, exercise and the support of family and childhood cancer organizations, she completed the treatment at an accelerated rate. After only 6 months, Amy was cleared of AML, thanks to the tireless work of children’s oncologists, doctors, nurses, and the generous funding, grants, and donations that made the research possible.
“I know that I’m here because of the research,” said Speck-Kern. “The disease and course of treatment inspired me to pursue my passion, and find a way to give back to the cause that has made it possible.” Her passion can be found in the saddle, astride thousand-pound dressage horses she teaches to move and dance in tandem with their riders. Now a professional FEI dressage trainer in Loxahatchee, Florida, she rides, trains, shows, and competes on Wellington’s prestigious international show circuit. After learning from and working with some of the best trainers in the industry, Amy founded Excel Dressage and, leading into the 2016 show season, has begun the process of giving back to childhood cancer research.
Through partnerships with organizations like the St. Baldrick’s Foundation and the Kids Cancer Foundation of South Florida, Amy hopes to raise awareness and funding for the imperative research necessary to one day conquer childhood cancers. In addition, these programs offer invaluable outreach, support, and resources to children going through treatment, as well as their siblings and families. “Most people don’t realize that treatment is only one step, and normally the only one covered by health insurance,” said Speck-Kern. “Education, support, and resources like psychologists and the camaraderie of other children who are experiencing the same reality are priceless and can make all the difference in the world to these kids.”
As an accomplished dressage rider, Amy is hoping to use her knowledge and expertise in the industry to introduce the equestrian community to the plight of childhood cancer patients. From piaffe-passage clinics whose proceeds will benefit ongoing research and development, to inviting local children and families to watch the spectacular dressage and show jumping extravaganzas hosted by the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center, Amy believes it is her duty to pay it forward by contributing to the ongoing need for research that saved her life and hopefully by making a difference in the lives of children diagnosed with the disease.
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