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Cheerleader faces paralysis, tumbles to another national championship

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LELAND, NC (WWAY) -- She’s a tiny athlete with one heck of a talent. Taylor Reece, 11, has been jumping, flipping and spinning since the tender age of five. By age 10, she was even a national champion. But her high-flying success came to a screeching halt last May.

While at school at Roger Bacon Academy, Taylor noticed a strange feeling in her legs. "I was just at music class and my legs started to feel weird," Taylor said.

Her legs started to feel heavy. By the end of the school day, when her dad Jim came to pick her up, Taylor could barely walk. He rushed her to the ER and called her mom.

"By the time I had gotten there, her right leg wasn't working right," Taylor's mom Sheri Reece said.

Taylor’s paralysis was worsening by the hour, creeping up her body. By that night, local doctors decided airlifting her to the UNC Children's Hospital in Chapel Hill was the best solution.

The helicopter arrived but Taylor had to go it alone, as her parents couldn't ride along with their ailing daughter. "It was one of the hardest things her dad and I have ever done, to watch your baby fly off and not knowing what's wrong with her," Sheri said. Taylor remembers feeling scared and anxious to know what had stricken her body with paralysis.

After three days in the pediatric intensive care unit, an MRI revealed a lesion on Taylor’s spine, caused by what doctors diagnosed as Transverse Myelitis, a rare neurological disorder that can inflame the spinal cord. Her mom feared Taylor may never cheer again, but she says her daughter's faith in her recovery never wavered. "We talked about it and she never said if I recover, she always said when."

Taylor took high doses of steroids and after spending four days in Chapel Hill, she moved on to rehab. Sheri remembers the high point in her daughter's recovery. "The day she went to the pool is her turning point, her true turning point in therapy, we felt that day she was going to be ok because she swam like fish."

"I was determined to leave rehab," Taylor said.

The young athlete kept her head up and remained hopeful to one day tumble again. Her teammates, coach and young sister stayed by her side through her months of recovery. And tumble again is exactly what she did. Within three months, she went from full paralysis of her legs to practicing in the gym. She pushed herself every day and every day, she got a little bit better.

By December, Taylor was back on her all-star team competing in the Pop Warner National Cheerleading Championships in Orlando, Florida. Alongside the team who cheered her on through her sickness, Taylor once again soared to becoming a national champion.

From wheelchair bound to flying high, Taylor’s run-in with the rare disorder never paralyzed her spirit. "If God brings you to it, he'll bring you through it," Taylor said.

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