Eleven-year-old Kerris Luedeke, daughter of Shay and Laura Luedeke and sister to Jett, has seen her fair share of challenges throughout the past year and a half, but it is with strength, a steady support system and her passion for horseback riding that she has overcome those hard times and continues to shine a light across all who know her.

In March of 2016, with the encouragement of her family, Kerris took a leap of faith, began horseback riding and never looked back. Winning High Point Rider of the Year her first year out, she proved to be a natural from the start, and it seemed nothing could stand in her way.

Two years later, on July 17, 2018, Kerris was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes, a chronic condition indicating an insufficiency of insulin, but not even this disease could contest her love for riding. A year and a half later, Kerris is ranked fifth in the 14 and Under High Point division.

“It [horseback riding] has taught her responsibility, and I thank God every day that she had it when she was diagnosed; it’s been very therapeutic for her and for me to be able to go to the barn,” Laura said. “My whole family is very proud of her for just taking the diagnosis and with horseback riding and not letting it slow her down.”

Because Type 1 Diabetes does not run in their family, Laura said it was a major adjustment, but their support system has grown stronger through this journey.

“It’s very overwhelming just because of the new normal that you have to do and just making sure that we keep her life and make her feel that everything is normal, and everything is going to be ok.”

By taking it one day at a time, the Luedeke family motto has become “live by grace and not perfection,” as Laura said Type 1 Diabetes “is not a perfect disease.”

When it comes to managing her diabetes with her riding, Laura said it is Kerris’ “unbelievable drive” that has allowed her to succeed in the midst of hardship. Regarding the risks of Type 1 Diabetes and horseback riding, Laura has the mindset that anything you do in life is going to have risks; thus, one must take the necessary precautions to ensure safety, such as the right training, discipline and, in this scenario, a dependable pony.

This is not to say that she is worry-free when it comes to Kerris, but she does have faith in her daughter’s dreams.

“Every time she goes over a jump, I hold my breath,” Laura said. “It’s just something that’s never going to go away; it’s just something that you know it’s what she loves to do, and you just pray it doesn’t happen.”

Following Krrris’ diagnosis, Laura has become dedicated to spreading the word about the warning signs of Type 1 Diabetes, which are, according to the Beyond Type 1 website: unquenchable thirst, frequent urination, unexplained bedwetting, unwanted or unexplained weight loss, less energy, fruit smelling breath, blurry vision, stomach pain, nausea or vomiting, loss of consciousness, rapid, heavy breathing.

With a Dexcom attached to her arm, Kerris is able to read her glucose numbers on her phone at any time, which the mother-daughter duo agreed has been a blessing. If she begins to feel low while riding, she simply grabs one of her secret weapons – Starburst or Fun Dip – and resumes on her ride.

Kerris has been training with Bit By Bit Farms, run by Kim Snyder, in Elgin since May of 2019. With the training facility being one hour away, having two practices per week and over the weekend, Laura said it is a family commitment but one she is happy to be a part of, even advising other parents to put their children in the sport.

“Best thing they could ever do for their child and the most expensive thing they could probably ever do,” Laura said.

Previously, Kerris rode with Box T Performance Horses, run by Cassie Shumate in Salado. She sold her pony, Roxie, in October because she outgrew her, and her horse, Whimsie, came off of an Indian reservation in Arizona.

This weekend, Kerris will be competing in the Central Texas Hunter Jumper Association (CTHJA) Finals Show. Because it is her end of the year event, Kerris said she has been riding a lot in preparation.

“The show that we’re going to this upcoming weekend is basically an English show, hunter jumper, and I will be riding a pony named Daisy and then a horse that I’ve been riding that’s my trainer’s named Hoodie,” Kerris said.

Kerris aspires to ride for Texas A&M University Women’s Equestrian Team. In the near future, however, she hopes to ride in the pony finals with the pony her family is searching for now.

For the time being, she is taking it one step at a time.

“If you fall off or something goes wrong, just always think ‘what is going to happen next,’” Kerris said. “What I always do is, if I fall off, I always just get back up again, just get back on my horse and make them do it again, or I’ll do it again until I get it right.”

In a similar mentality, Kerris gave a few words of wisdom to those just beginning their journey with Type 1 Diabetes.

“Just carry on; don’t let it get you down or pull you down,” Kerris said.