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Florida equestrian makes her way to Paralympics after surviving terror attack

Para-dressage
Posted at 7:30 AM, Aug 04, 2021

LOXAHATCHEE, Fla. — Beatrice de Lavalette says she's in the best shape of her life, training five days a week in the sport she's dedicated herself to — para-dressage.

"The way I like to explain it is when you see dancing horses — that's what it is," she said.

The equestrian from Loxahatchee, Florida, said from a young age that horses were a natural fit.

"I started getting interested in horses when I was a kid, but all of my family rode. So, for me, it was kind of a normal thing for me to start doing," she said.

De Lavalette said she was primarily a hobbyist rider until all her plans and passion were derailed in March of 2016 during a string of terrorist bombings in Brussels, Belgium.

"Next thing that happens is I'm on the ground. I know exactly what just happened, and I remember thinking, 'You have got to be kidding me. I can't believe this just happened,'" she said.

De Lavalette was 17 and at the Brussels airport on her way to visit her parents in Florida when she unknowingly stood close to one of the bombers who carried out the attack.

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"I made my peace with what happened that day, so for me, it was a little piece of my life that redefined my life but didn't stop it," de Lavalette said.

Peace didn't come easily for de Lavalette, who had to adapt to life as a double amputee and spinal cord injury survivor.

"As soon as I realized I was going to be OK, my first question was, 'When am I going to get back on my horse?'" she said.

She found healing in horses and a friend in her coach, Shayna Simon.

"For me, personally it gives me freedom," de Lavalette said. "I'm able to forget that I'm in a wheelchair and that I don't have working legs because when I'm on the horse, I don't have that sensation of just being stuck."

After a month in a medically-induced coma and years of rehab and physical therapy, de Lavalette and Simon channeled all the hard work into a place on the Team USA Paralympic equestrian team in the Summer Tokyo Paralympics.

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Simon said she's more than impressed.

"It's been so cool to watch her develop as a young person and a rider," Simon said. "She really started out as more of a hobby rider, and now she's an Olympic athlete. She's gotten so good so fast, so that kind of speaks for itself, and I'm just so proud of her and her horse, Clarc. "

Clarc, de Lavalette, and the rest of her team will be making their way to Tokyo in just a few short days. They'll stop first in Germany for quarantine before the start of the paralympic games.

The Paralympic games kick off on Aug. 24, and de Lavalette said that win or lose, she hopes people can find a positive takeaway from her story.

"There's always a light at the end of the tunnel. no matter how dark you think it is," de Lavalette said. "I know it's not easy, but sometimes if you find something you really love, it's going to help you find that light."

This story was originally published by Chris Gilmore on Scripps station WPTV in Palm Beach, Florida.