Once told she may never walk, Woodland Hills senior to play Division I soccer

| Wednesday, March 19, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

While other children were playing sports and dreaming of athletic careers, Brianna Guy was wondering whether the next time she was able to move around without a wheelchair would be the last, or whether that time would ever come at all.

Diagnosed with juvenile arthritis at 5, Guy often had trouble walking and even standing throughout her childhood.

The disease affected every joint in her body, impaired her vision and weakened her immune system. Her fears included losing her eyesight altogether and being confined to a wheelchair forever.

Somehow, Guy stayed optimistic.

“I always kind of felt that I would overcome it,” she said.

After years of wanting to play soccer, Guy had finally improved to the point where she was able to begin her own athletic career as a freshman at Woodland Hills, and that career won't end when she graduates in June. Guy will become a Division I soccer player in the fall, as she was offered a five-year scholarship to join the program at St. Francis University in Loretto.

News of the opportunity ranks only behind Guy's learning that she had entered remission several years ago.

“It was incredible,” she said. “I never thought I would be able to play soccer in college, let alone get a scholarship for it. It's like a dream come true.”

Guy works on her game as if making up for lost time, which she is. In the last four years, she has played on six different teams. She is obsessed with getting better and has been known to put in 4-6 hours a day to do so.

Her perseverance and dedication are undeniable. Those traits, and some old-fashioned skills, helped her stand out to St. Francis and will continue to serve her well during her time with the Red Flash.

“I truly do think this kid has something special,” St. Francis coach Brenda van Stralen said, “and she will work her butt off for us to make sure she will make a difference.”

Like so many coaches, van Stralen was surprised to learn of Guy's complicated medical history and late introduction to soccer after seeing her play. Her ability isn't ordinary, but in a good way.

Gregory Annan, the girls soccer coach at Woodland Hills, was the same way. He believes confidence is key for Guy, who has gained plenty of it by overcoming juvenile arthritis and performing well on the field.

“If she's the player that she was in high school, with the right coaching around her, she's going to make a lot of noise in the collegiate level,” Annan said. “With the right fine tuning, she's going to be a dangerous player and a very good asset to have.”

Not long ago, Guy's participation on a college soccer team seemed all but impossible. For more than a decade, she went through a regimen that centered on physical therapy and methotrexate, a form of chemotherapy. She also underwent a pair of knee scopes.

“I always just thought I was given this for a reason,” said Guy, who is active in the Arthritis Foundation and enjoys speaking to children experiencing similar problems. “There has to be a reason why I have arthritis.”

While she feels arthritis will always be part of her life, her well-being is miles better than where it once was, and she is very grateful for having come so far, and for the journey itself.

“Now, I just feel like a normal human being,” Guy said. “I feel like I don't have something wrong with me.”

She's a normal human being on the verge of a collegiate soccer career that was unfathomable just a few years ago. Not bad for a young girl who was told walking would be out of the question by the time she reached high school.

Mark Emery is a freelance writer.

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