DALLAS — If you could use one word to describe Marie Marshall, it would be: Independent.
The freshman from Dallas High School is a sprinter on the track and field team, participating in the 100, 200, and 400 meter races. She’s been racing since seventh grade.
Oh yeah, and she’s in a wheelchair.
But that’s not the first thing you notice when you first meet her. Instead, you notice that big smile that spreads across her face when you talk with her, and her spunky personality that bubbles up.
At first, she’s shy, and it takes some time to get her to open up. You would never know that she’s the same competitive girl who gets on the track, determined to win.
“I want to be first,” she said. “I like to go really fast with my wheelchair.”
It was her substitute teacher, Kacey McAllister, who is also LaCreole Middle School’s track and field coach, who encouraged Marshall to try out for track. She tried sprinting and she was good at it right away, Marshall’s mom, Kathy Peterson, said.
Last Friday, Marie raced a personal best in the 200, with 1:20.16, at the Titan Track Classic at West Salem High School. During that race, she was able to compete alongside another wheelchair athlete, something she doesn’t get to do very often.
“I’m usually the only one,” Marie said.
Being in a wheelchair doesn’t keep her from holding back. A year and a half ago, Peterson said she raced at Hayward Field against a college wheelchair athlete who was nationally placed.
“I was like, so close to (beating) that college girl,” Marie said. “She was stronger than me.”
Strong. That’s another word that comes to mind when looking at Marie. Pushing your body around the track multiple times during an event is incredibly taxing, so to add to her training on the track, Marshall said she does things like pull ups and push ups to help get stronger.
“I do weight lifting, but it’s really hard,” she said. “I do pull ups. I can do 30 in a row.”
She can also do handstands up and down the stairs in her house. That’s how she gets around her house most of the time — on her hands.
“She’s strong; she was doing one-handed push ups one night, too,” Peterson said.
“I can do 30 in a row,” Marshall added.
The Peterson home is not really ADA approved, Peterson said, but Marie is able to get up on the counter to help out with chores, cooking, vacuuming, setting the table. She can do almost anything, Peterson said.
It’s no wonder that Marie’s such a powerful athlete.
The special racing wheelchair she uses now, which is lime green and has a wheel in the front and two at either side, was donated to the family last year by an anonymous donor. Peterson said the donor saw Marie going up and down the giant hill on which she lives and asked if he could buy her an electric wheelchair. Peterson said that he could make a donation toward a racing chair, if he wanted.
Next thing the family knew, he had ordered a $6,000 chair, according to Peterson.
Marie was adopted from Haiti when she was 6 years old, where she lived in an orphanage.
“She came here when she was 6 and, up until that time, she got around pretty much on her hands,” Peterson said.
She said the wheelchair they had at the orphanage for her was too big, and that if it doesn’t fit right, it can throw your body off, “so as soon as she got here I got her fitted for one.”
Peterson already had four children before adopting three from Haiti.
“I was in the process of adopting her sister, and they knew I was not adverse to taking children with disabilities,” Peterson said. “I thought about it for a minute, and then I said, ‘OK.’”
Peterson and Marie met one another when Marie was 3 years old, and three years later, she was officially adopted.
“It was a very long process,” Peterson said. “And then a year after we adopted her, almost a year to the day, (Haiti) had their hurricane. So, we’re really lucky that I got her when I did.”
As Marie grew up, she was never told she couldn’t do something; Peterson always encouraged her to get out and try whatever she wanted.
“I remember, one time, we lived over in Bend, and she was over playing on the monkey bars, and there was these people, ‘aren’t you afraid she’s gonna fall?’ and I went, ‘yeah,’ but you can’t stop her,” Peterson said. “And so she’s always had that desire to do stuff and I’ve just let her do it.”
Marie doesn’t seem unsure or nervous to try new things; she just goes out and does it, without ever questioning whether or not she can, because she knows she can.
“I never discourage her on anything, I never tell her she can’t do it,” Peterson said.