10-year-old hits milestone despite battling tumors
MONUMENT ” There were times Maria Broyles felt tired. Times she couldn’t stop throwing up. Times she wondered if her hair would grow back.
A spinal tumor zapped her previously limitless energy, turned her adolescent body into a mess and almost wiped away her adorable smile, giving her every reason to quit the only sport she has ever loved.
Her passion for taekwondo hardly waned.
“It kept me strong,” said Broyles, a Colorado Springs 10-year-old. “And it made me keep going.”
Against the longest odds, Broyles reached a milestone in taekwondo recently by completing two-plus years of training to earn a black belt at the U.S. Taekwondo Center.
Her mother, Kathy, 38, her sister, Anna, 8, and her younger brother, Matthew, 6, also passed black belt tests administered by Grandmaster Sang Lee, a former Olympic Training Center coach. In a pre-competition ceremony, Broyles’ older brother, Jimmy, 12, received the black belt he earned last year.
Maria Broyles, a fourth-grader at The Classical Academy, is a happy-go-lucky girl with an outgoing personality and help-others mentality who enjoys arts and crafts, painting and drawing when she’s not competing in taekwondo.
Her family has forever been close. It grew closer when her father, Jimmy, an orbital analyst at Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, died in 2003 at 33 after a brief battle with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Three years ago, Broyles had trouble focusing at school because of constant headaches. She often lost her balance, experienced occasional numbness in her hands and sometimes had seizures.
Doctors diagnosed Broyles with neurofibromatosis, a genetic disorder that causes tumors to grow on nerves. One in 3,000 to 4,000 Americans are affected, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. It’s the same disease that crippled Joseph Merrick, also known as “The Elephant Man.”
A magnetic resonance imaging revealed a tumor on Broyles’ spine. Doctors couldn’t operate since surgery would have been too dangerous.
Chemotherapy was the lone option.
Once or twice a month for about 10 months, Broyles underwent treatment. Her sandy blond hair disappeared, and she typically became nauseated and took intravenous fluid so she wouldn’t faint.
Stopping taekwondo wasn’t an option.
Broyles missed several training sessions but continued kicking, punching and breaking boards as if nothing was wrong. One day, she practiced with a tube in her chest, determined to maintain pace with her mother and siblings.
“The only time she would be pulled out, mom would have to pull her out,” said Jay Lee, a master at the U.S. Taekwondo Center. “I didn’t think she would be in class. A couple of days later, she’s back in class. She just kept pushing through it.
“It’s a testament to her and her family. It would be easy for her to be sad. It would be easy for her to be down. She’s always smiling. She’s always trying hard.”
Kathy Broyles figured her daughter wouldn’t abandon her taekwondo dream.
“She has always been a little fighter,” she said, adding that Maria was born nearly two months premature. “Taekwondo has brought it out in her more. It taught her to persevere. It taught her never to give up. It taught her to pick herself up. It taught her no matter what’s in front of her, she can make it through it.”
Maria Broyles said her mother is the reason she was able to stay on track.
“She has been helping me practice my material,” Maria Broyles said. “She likes taekwondo, too. She loves it.”
The chemotherapy decreased the size of Broyles’ tumor, although more treatment is possible if the mass grows. Broyles has routine checkups, and she’s considering occupational therapy to alleviate tingling in her right arm.
Of course, Broyles isn’t contemplating a break from taekwondo.
“It’s fun, and I like practicing,” she said. “I think I’m going to keep doing it for a long time.”
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