Leighanna Kolp of Chugiak spent the first three years of her life in an orphanage in Taiwan. She was born without her right leg, she has cerebral palsy and two years ago she had reconstructive hip surgery.
She's 14 years old, and what she said Saturday after she nearly stole the show at the Mayor's Marathon & Half-Marathon might just steal your heart.
"It's one thing to have a disability, and it's another to let it overtake you," Kolp said. "… I'm going to choose to do things even if they're hard. Even for regular people, not everything is going to be easy in life. There are certain things you're gonna have to fight for."
With that mindset, Kolp delivered a huge personal-best in the 5-kilometer race. Running the 3.1-mile race for the second straight year, she finished in a little more than 72 minutes — beating her time from last year by 17 minutes.
Lending literal helping hands to Kolp were her dad, Joe; her 19-year-old brother, Tanner; and her sister and brother-in-law, Emily and Dillon LeBahn. Tanner helped steady her as they crossed the Delaney Park finish line.
Kolp goes to physical therapy three times a week and is beginning horse therapy next week, Joe Kolp said. "She likes basketball too," he said. "She's real self-motivated."
Joe and Kristen Kolp adopted Leighanna when she was 3. She was missing her right leg because of amniotic band syndrome and has cerebral palsy from the waist down. Two years ago, she had surgery for hip dysplasia.
None of that has slowed her down.
"If I don't do anything just because I'm afraid of what people do or say, then I'm not going to do anything," she said. "I didn't want to be somebody who just has a pity party for themselves all the time."
Last year's race was more difficult, Leighanna said, because she was just one year out of hip surgery. She was inspired to run anyway, she said, because she wanted to honor Elizabeth Yahr, a family friend battling lymphoma.
"Even though she had cancer and even though things are hard, I wanted her to know that as a family we cared for her," she said. "So last year my goal was to run for her."
This year, Leighanna's motives were a little more selfish: "My goal was to beat my time."
Mission accomplished. Last year she finished in 1 hour, 29 minutes, 38 seconds. This year she finished in 1:12:34.
"This year I was just more ready for it and I was in a better place with my body," she said.
But as it turned out, Leighanna wasn't all that selfish. Kristen Kolp said her daughter used the race to raise money for her favorite charity, Cadence International, a Christian outreach to the military community. She'll be making a $150 donation soon.