TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — At first glance, it’s impossible to tell 13-year-old Madeline Jordan was hit by a truck less than two years ago. Clothes hide the scars. An infectious smile is just a part of her personality.
The incident on Halloween night 2015 that left Jordan with a head injury and a broken femur isn’t something she’s focused on anymore.
The truck is in the past.
“I try to put it behind me because, I don’t know, I like to look forward and not think about it, I guess,” she said.
Maddie, as her parents call her, is focused on the present. Her current prospects include a rise in the world of competitive horseback riding. She earned a first-place finish at the United State Equestrian Federation Pony Finals, riding her pony Shamrock in the Medium Green (first-time) Hunter division. The six-day competition in Lexington, Kentucky, included more than 600 ponies and riders.
A student at Holy Comforter Episcopal School, Maddie has been riding horses since she was about four years old.
“If you can put your mind to it, then you can do it,” she said. “I didn’t really think about not riding. I just thought about riding and going and doing Pony Finals again and seeing what would happen. I guess it was determination.”
Maddie’s parents were terrified.
Her father, Leon County Sheriff’s Office public information officer Lt. Grady Jordan, still remembers Halloween 2015. His daughter, then 11 years old, was dressed as New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick – it was supposed to be a mellow night of trick-or-treating with friends.
“I saw the impact of the vehicle on a shadow,” he said. “I saw, but I didn’t know what it was or who it was. Then I take off, being in law enforcement for 20 years, I ran towards the driver.”
Maddie was struck by a white pickup truck, driven by then 31-year-old Amy Holton, while preparing to cross the street on Argyle Lane. Holton told deputies she’d taken the drug Vicodin that morning.
Her mother, Monica, still gets tears in her eyes when recalling the night. She saw the approaching headlights and screamed for the truck to slow down.
“This was not children just darting in and out of the street,” she said. “This was a walking block party. This car drove through a crowd of people. You heard people screaming as they were jumping out of the way. Grady and I were right next to each other and I just remember, when people say stuff happens fast, they’re not kidding.
“You never really get over the sound of impact of somebody’s body hitting a car going fast.”
Maddie remembers the night, too. She remembers her candy flying after she was hit.
“I remember spilling all of my candy,” Maddie said with a slight laugh. “I remember standing in the bike lane about to cross the street, looking both ways and next thing I knew I was lying on the ground and there were, like, a bazillion people around me.”
She doesn’t dwell on the incident, but she remembers how she felt immediately after it happened.
“I was really tired – I was not allowed to fall asleep,” she said. “It was my bedtime, so that might’ve been one reason I was really tired. I was little scared. I was a little nervous because I knew physically where I was but I didn’t really know where I was in the road.
“I thought the ambulance wasn’t going to see us. I thought it was going to hit us, but it didn’t. I figured out everything was fine and then I was in the hospital.”
Maddie spent two weeks at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare. Despite a mangled leg and doctors’ worries, she wasn’t afraid she wouldn’t ride again. She wanted to work on getting better.
“I guess every competition that I go to at my level is difficult,” Maddie said. “I had to get a lot better to be able to compete in my division and I had to do a lot of physical therapy.”
Grady and Monica said family friends helped them get through the toughest times.
“You realize how many friends you actually do have in a situation like that. It was very overwhelming and very powerful for our family to know we truly have a lot of friends who care about us,” Grady said. “You have a lot of trust in God, knowing we were lucky she was still with us.”
A well-timed phone call helped with the recovery. After a particularly painful ultrasound to check for blood clots, during which Maddie required several doses of morphine, the Jordans received a phone call from Bill Belichick – a man known for his stoic public face.
The call was followed up by a letter.
“I know people have mixed feelings about Bill Belichick, but we think he is a class act,” Monica said. “He’s a man of few words – Grady said it sounded like two young teenagers on a date because it was so awkward the way they interacted.”
It’s a call Maddie still relishes. According to her mother, it went like this:
“I hear you’re a big Patriots fan,” the legendary coach said.
“Yes sir,” Maddie replied.
“I bet you that’s not easy to do in Florida,” Belichick said.
Maddie said, “No sir. My surgeon’s a Jets fan.”
A huge part of Maddie’s recovery and training for the finals was her trainer. Karen Smith, a no-nonsense teacher who came out of retirement at the insistence of Maddie’s parents.
Monica called Smith her family’s “secret weapon.”
“I actually don’t do a lot of teaching,” Smith said. “I used to do a lot, but I retired and now I just pick and choose.”
Smith was less concerned with Maddie’s physical capabilities and more focused on the age of the young rider.
“It’s a challenge, No. 1 to take on a 12-year-old going on 13,” she said. “That’s a very difficult age. There were many days where I came out here and we sat underneath a tree and she just had to vent on a whole bunch of stuff. That’s what we did, and then we started riding.”
Plus, Shamrock, known in the barn as Louie, didn’t have many of the basic skills he and Maddie would need to become champions.
“I had two green entities working together,” Smith said. “(Maddie) would get frustrated because he wouldn’t know what she was doing.”
Smith barely mentioned Maddies’ medical issues, she focused on bringing horse and rider together.
“I like to challenge her so when she gets to the horse show, no matter what they throw at her, it’s not complicated,” Smith said. “I was proud of her before. This was just the icing on the cake and it’s really just the beginning of what she’s going to do.”
Maddie lives now knowing everything can change in an instant.
“Your ponies can be taken away at any moment,” she said. “I rode my ponies that day, then I went trick-or-treating and I didn’t ride them for longer than three months.”
Her parents are just happy to look at her each day.
“Every day we see her, we see those scars and it means a lot because she’s worked hard, but it’s something so much bigger than us,” Monica said. “To win at that level, it’s not just about talent or a really nice, competitive pony. All the stars have to be aligned.”
Maddie’s not sure how long she’ll ride, maybe through college. She has aspirations of becoming a lawyer – though that’s a switch from wanting to be a doctor. But for now, she’s basking a bit in her most recent win.
“It’s a pretty big deal when you go from not walking to winning Pony Finals,” she said with a smile.
Information from: Tallahassee (Fla.) Democrat, http://www.tdo.com