NORMAN — Madison Gay's first horse was an orphan mustang her dad bought for all the cash he had in his pocket — $25. Madison spent hours after school with the horse, which was scrawny and wouldn't eat when it arrived at the family's home. Madison and Gallion had an understanding. Both had challenges, and both were stubborn enough not to let the obstacles stop them. Gallion learned to jump over fences, picnic tables and Madison, who was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes at 9, learned to stick herself several times a day to check her blood sugar and give herself insulin shots. Now 17, Madison wears a pump that infuses her blood with insulin to help keep her blood sugar levels steady. The disease that could cause blindness or kidney failure isn't slowing her down. Madison will be among the competitors this weekend at a horse jumping competition in Ardmore.
Things on her mindWhile most competitors worry about their form or the layout of the course, Madison will have a few more things to consider. Madison has learned the signs for low blood sugar and usually can remedy it. The other thing on her mind will be concentrating on remembering left and right. Madison is also dyslexic. For her, recalling the course and which way to direct her horse is often more of a daunting task than riding a horse with an insulin pump strapped to her riding pants. Diabetes can be controlled and monitored. Dyslexia is an unpredictable factor, and its symptoms are often made worse by stress. "She reverses everything until she gets on a horse,” Madison's mom, Judy Gay, said. "Once she's on a horse, it makes sense. It's a peaceful thing for her.” With an insulin pump covered in a hot pink cheetah pattern strapped to the waistband of her pants, Madison ran through a jumping course Wednesday at the High Hopes Training Center just west of Norman. As the horse took the jump, Madison leaned forward in anticipation and easily cleared it. "I just like horses,” Madison said. "It's like my place between heaven and earth.” Orphaned and ornery horse Gallion has taught Madison about life and given her unconditional love — or maybe it's the carrots and peppermint candies he gets as a treat, Judy Gay jokes. Madison broke the horse, and in turn he bucked her off when Madison was 14, breaking her femur. A few weeks after her leg healed, Madison conquered her fear and was on a horse again. "Gallion has taught her that things happen,” Judy Gay said. "She's not going to get special treatment. You've just got to be ready to try and keep going.”
Finding the silver liningLow blood sugar has affected Madison's riding just once. In one of her first competitions, her blood sugar dropped dangerously low, and she fell off her horse before a competition. "We don't have to remind her of that too often,” said Virginia Hames, Madison's trainer. "She knows what she needs to do. Sometimes she likes to pretend that it doesn't exist, but it's never happened again. As a person she's no different; we don't treat her special. It's up to her. We always like to say it's like a diet that she can't cheat on.” The pump is like a part of her body, said Madison, a bubbly teenager with brown hair and an easy smile. She doesn't like to talk about herself, and like most girls her age, her first answer to most questions is "I don't know,” followed by an infectious laugh. Madison is, however, serious when she talks about the goals she has for herself. She wants to ride on a collegiate equestrian team and eventually own and operate her own stable and training center. But the road ahead won't be easy. School is a daily challenge, sometimes more than the equations of checking her blood sugar. When asked if she likes school, she answers with a quick, "No.” "I realize that I have to do things I don't like to do, and that makes me better,” Madison said. "But everything has a silver lining. Sometimes you just have to find it.”
Valuing each momentThe Gays have always had animals and even ran a pumpkin patch for a brief stint, but they would call themselves horse people, Judy Gay said. Madison never grew out of her love of horses. So when her dad brought Gallion home, it was time for her to show her parents she was serious. "I used to see her out there trying to ride that horse and I'd be scared to death,” Judy Gay said. "But she just kept going.” As a parent, Judy Gay could have a lot to be scared about. Her oldest child, Morgan, 20, suffers from a seizure disorder that prohibits her from having a driver's license. Morgan Gay attends Redlands Community College on a golf scholarship and was part of a Purcell team that won three straight Class 3A titles. Morgan Gay has a seizure almost daily, Judy Gay said. The Gays also have a son, Chase, who stands well over 6 feet tall and plays basketball at Oklahoma City University. Chase, 19, has no chronic health problems. But when someone in the family has a disease, everyone is affected, Gay said. "When we found out Madison had diabetes, it was right after Morgan had been diagnosed,” Gay said. "It was like, ‘When is the next freight train going to come and hit us?' Not many people hope that two out of their three kids are going to wake up in the morning. It makes you value every little moment.”
What is diabetes?It's an autoimmune disease occurring when a person's pancreas stops producing insulin, a hormone that enables people to get energy from food. • TYPE 1: Usually occurs in children or young adulthood and lasts a lifetime. • TYPE 2: A person's body still produces insulin, but is unable to use it effectively. Type 2 usually is diagnosed in adulthood and often can be controlled through diet and exercise.
By the numbers•Nearly 21 million Americans have it. •In the U.S., a new case of diabetes is diagnosed every 30 seconds. •More than 1.3 million people are diagnosed each year. Source: Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation
Diabetes' warning signsExtreme thirst, frequent urination, drowsiness or lethargy, increased appetite, sudden weight loss for no reason, sudden vision changes, fruit odor on breath, heavy or labored breathing Source: Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation