State Games Woman Athlete of the Year an inspiration to all

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 8, 2004

[9/2/04]The State Games of Mississippi woman athlete of the year could not walk two years ago.

Deedra Sims, or Dee-Dee as she is known to her family and friends, was an aspiring chemist, earning an honors degree from Jackson State University in 1998, four years after her Vicksburg High graduation.

Less than a year after her JSU graduation, multiple sclerosis began to set in. First she lost vision in one eye in 1999. Soon after, when the disease began to ravage her nerves and muscles, her speech became slurred, her walking shaky. She was confined to a wheelchair when it became impossible to walk on her own.

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That was then. On Monday, the 28-year-old walked from her family’s SUV at Rainbow Farms to a lawn chair. Monday is her day in therapy, but before she could begin a process that brought her from confinement to near-physical freedom, a visitor wanted to talk about her recovery.

The visitor, though, played second fiddle to a twenty-something horse named China.

“I love China,” said Dee Dee as the horse nestled its face against her arm. “I love everyone out here.”

Dee-Dee rides a horse once a week for 30 minutes as part of her therapy. The horse’s movements simulate human body movements, helping the rider’s muscle strength and coordination.

She can only ride China once every two weeks. Different horses with different styles of movement strengthen the body.

Dee-Dee has been part of a program for 1 1/2 years at Rainbow Farms in southern Warren County. The therapeutic riding center assists disabled men, women and children by using animals instead of machines.

At first, volunteers at the farm would have to push Dee-Dee’s wheelchair up a ramp and put her on the horse. Now, she climbs the steps with minimal help, and can get on the horse under her own power.

She rode China at the State Games in June in Meridian. In Dressage, she must walk and trot with the horse and is judged on her performance.

At the closing ceremony, her name was called as the woman athlete of the year.

“It felt some kind of wonderful,” she said, smiling broadly.

There is no timetable for how long Dee-Dee will have riding therapy. As she gets stronger, the time on the horses for therapy purposes will decrease. She said she will ride as long as the members of Rainbow Farms will let her.

She has a longer term goal in mind, however.

“I just want to live a normal life,” she said.

What exactly is normal? I’ve always been told normal is a setting on a washing machine.

Dee-Dee Sims surpassed normal a long time ago.

Extraordinary is more like it.

Sean P. Murphy is sports editor of The Vicksburg Post. E-mail him at smurphy@vicksburgpost.com.