pluck | pl k |
Maddie Fagerland is a likable 8th grader with smiling eyes and a genuine ‘let-loose’ laugh who thrives on friendship and the love of family. And if you just walked by her and her crew at Dairy Queen or the school lunchroom, that might be the extent of your takeaway. But you’d be missing some remarkable detail as to what makes Maddie extraordinary. As ‘8th grade normal’ as she may appear at first blush, she is perfectly unusual in all the best kinds of ways, and I guarantee you, you don’t want to miss any of that.
1 spirited and determined courage. [see also] Madelyn Fagerland
Maddie Fagerland is a likable 8th grader with smiling eyes and a genuine ‘let-loose’ laugh who thrives on friendship and the love of family. And if you just walked by her and her crew at the Dairy Queen or the school lunchroom, that might be the extent of your takeaway. But you’d be missing some remarkable detail as to what makes Maddie extraordinary. As ‘8th grade normal’ as she may appear at first blush, she is perfectly unusual in all the best kinds of ways, and I guarantee you, you don’t want to miss any of that.
By Craig Williams
Maddie was reading long before most. Her mother, an elementary reading and language arts specialist, may have had a hand in that. But, from the start, Maddie was possessed of the kind of ‘sticky’ brain that brought early order to her window on the world. Instead of the typical stop most 5 and 6-year-olds make in Kindergarten, Maddie went straight into 1st grade and she thrived. By the time she was in 3rd grade, she was reading at a 9th grade level and was developing a real love for learning. She credits much of this to Miss Pestka and, later, to ‘Mr. O’ — Mr. Omiotek — a bit of a Renaissance man who breathes student-engaging life into social studies, science, and art at Tamaroa Grade School, a small school community with an average K-8 enrollment of around 88 or so over the past half-decade. But there is no lack of commitment here on the part of the professional educators or the administrative and support teams. Maddie has been a beneficiary of that. But that’s not even the half of it.
Maddie was born without an anterior cruciate ligament — the ACL — in her right leg, a rare congenital condition, statistically impacting approximately 17 out of every 1,000 live births. Not only that, but her right femur had not developed at the same rate as her left which, by third grade, had led to a disparity of three inches between the left and right legs. She knew that, at some point, surgery would be required to set things right, but she was not looking forward to it. Still, the clumsy 3-inch extension attached to the bottom of her right shoe was no treat, either. She was, after all, a cross country runner and she finally decided that this just wouldn’t do— something had to be done.
The leg-lengthening surgeries were planned and scheduled. Much of her 4th and 5th grade years would be spent commuting between Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital in Saint Louis and home, which had been equipped for her accommodation. These accommodations included a rockstar grandmother homeschooler who had, herself, been a classroom teacher for 26 years. With her support team in-place, Maddie didn’t miss a beat, education-wise, but it was a hard stretch for her, physically. In addition to being a normal nine or ten-year-old girl, the apparatus attached by 6 pins to the two halves of her surgically-broken femur would require her daily attention. Put more precisely, she’d have to use an Allen-wrench to make several turns to expand the space between these two halves of her femur by approximately one millimeter each day. This process went on for months. But one day, on the drive to Saint Louis to check-in with her medical team, Maddie asked her mother for her iPhone. She wanted to take pictures out the window. Over time, this led to a real interest in photography, and Maddie began looking at things
The thing about Maddie that really struck me was her unbridled optimism, curiosity, and willingness to take a chance and put herself out there.
differently. Geese in the fields, bridges and overpasses, sunflowers and brown-eyed Susans growing along the road, her two Australian Shepherds. Nothing was off limits, and soon, she began noticing textures and patterns. Light dancing along walls in her home and through the adjacent countryside. I’ve been doing photography both as a hobby and as part of my profession for 5-decades and I would put her work right alongside mine and dare you to tell the difference.
The time passed. The Allen wrench turned, and the femur grew at an accelerated rate. Right equaled left, and after four months of physical therapy, Maddie was cleared by her doctors to re-engage in life as she had known it before the Allen wrench, to include her athletic pursuits, which now included basketball and volleyball as well as cross-country. On top of all this, Maddie, a straight A, high honor roll student, maintains membership in the National Beta Club, an organization, which promotes academic achievement, character, community service, and leadership.
As I chatted with Maddie on a Sunday afternoon for this story, several things became eminently clear to me: 1.) She will go to the mat for her friends and family; they mean everything to her. 2.) She is fueled by her abundant intelligence, creativity, faith, and a wonderful sense of humor. 3.) There is absolutely no quit in her. But the thing about Maddie that really struck me was her unbridled optimism, curiosity, and willingness to take a chance and put herself out there.
Some years ago, I heard a story about a curator of ceramics for a big city art museum. She had an exhibit to fill and she decided to engage a class of art students at a local college. She commissioned half the class to create as many pieces as they could during the semester— good, bad, awful— it made no difference. They would be paid for the quantity of pieces chosen for the exhibit. She challenged the other half of the class to create only their very best work over the next semester; to submit nothing they wouldn’t be proud to see put on display. They'd be paid according to the quality of their work. At the end of the experiment, one half of this class were the clear winners in terms of what this curator would include in her display, and what they were paid. Most would guess that it would be the half that was challenged to do only their best work, but those people would be wrong. It was the half who worked hard to produce the most work. Because they moved fast and took lots of creative risks, they wound up not only producing more work, but work of better quality, as well. And, for me, that’s the Maddie story. She just keeps on going. Just keeps producing, taking chances, and putting herself out there. No ACL? Big deal, “I’m gonna run cross country.” Clunky shoe? So what, “Let’s break that femur and turn that Allen wrench.” No regular class attendance? Who cares, “We’ve got this, Grandma.” No fancy camera? “Toss me that iPhone, Dad.” At the end of the day, hard work wins.
Every now and then, someone crosses our path and catches our attention— they make us look twice. Something in them stands up and inspires us. My own grandmother had a word for this. She’d have called it ‘pluck.' I’m just going to call it ‘Maddie.’
Maddie's Actionable Takeaways
1. Humor is good medicine
2. Faith, hope, or belief makes the intolerable tolerable
3. Exploring interests can lead to new opportunites
4. Friendships reflect the best in us
5. Bloom where you're planted
6. Persevere — persistent hard work always wins