by Karen Pavlicin-Fragnito
Briley Rossiter is not your typical twelve year old. Yes, she loves to listen to music, read popular adventure books, and sometimes gets annoyed with her little brother. But she’s also a published author, with a busy schedule of events, and a philanthropist, donating all proceeds from her book, Born an Angel, to the Ainsley’s Angels of America Foundation. The intensely-protective older sister and preteen author hopes to spread an important message about inclusion.
Her inspiration? Her younger sister, Ainsley, now ten years old, who lives with Infantile Neuroaxonal Dystrophy, an extremely rare, inherited degenerative disorder of the nervous system.
“Ainsley is the inspiration,” says Briley. “This is her legacy. I’m just her voice. I’m telling the world her story because she can’t on her own. I want to give readers hope and show their families an example of how I have learned to deal with Ainsley’s differences, through running and writing.”
In Born an Angel, Briley tells the story of her sister’s life and diagnosis, her family’s response, and the exciting details of how racing together has changed their lives. In her introduction, Briley writes, “Imagine…An innocent nine-year-old girl with a disease or dystrophy making it impossible for her to ever walk or run…you have been trusted to be her feet, so you run; you run like the wind!”
The first time Briley ran with Ainsley was in May 2011, in Massachusetts, with Dick and Rick Hoyt, a father-son team who have run more than 1100 races together across the country and who originally inspired Briley’s family to get involved with local running groups. Briley became the youngest Angel on Team Hoyt Virginia Beach, the chapter closest to her home.
“Over the last three years, I’ve run a total of eighteen races with Ainsley and she’s done a total of sixty races,” says Briley. “The races I do are three to five miles, while Ainsley has done everything from three miles to two marathons! A lot of races are not only with me and my dad, but family and friends as well.”
Briley and Ainsley have enjoyed 18 races together, including the Holland Elementary School 5K in Massachusetts with the Hoyts the past three years; several 5K and 8K races in Virginia; Electric Run in Houston, Texas; July 4th 4-miler in Lake Charles, Louisiana; and an Ainsley's Angels 10K.
Briley used her running experience to bring the excitement of a race into her book. She writes, “Imagine this: I’m stretched and hydrated. ‘FIVE,’ booms the voice of the race director behind the microphone. My shoelaces are tied into two tight knots. ‘FOUR.’ My race bib is securely fastened to my shirt. ‘THREE.’ The restless crowd falls silent. ‘TWO.’ I order myself to calm down as I take one final deep breath. ‘ONE.’ I bend over the jogging chair ready to strike. ‘ERRRRRRRR!’ the horn blows, signaling the start. ‘Let’s do this, Ains!’ I yell to Ainsley over the roar of the crowd. And off we go.”
Running is a blessing for both Briley and Ainsley. “Writing and running has been a way for me to cope, as well as a way to spend more time with Ainsley,” says Briley. “I hope I can encourage others to do the same. Some people are not able to run on their own, but I can. I cannot even begin to describe how amazing it feels to share this gift with someone else. When I run with Ainsley, it’s the most incredible feeling in the world.”
When Briley first started racing with her sister, it was easy to tell how much Ainsley enjoyed it. “Whenever we would run and the wind would hit her face, Ainsley lit up and smiled,” says Briley. As Ainsley’s condition has deteriorated, it has become more difficult for her to show emotion. “Once in a while, though, when the wind is in her face, she smiles, and I know.”
Briley says her dad and lot of other people have partnered to help other children, teens, adults, and veterans with disabilities have the same experience. Organizations like Team Hoyt, myTEAM Triumph, and Ainsley’s Angels offer endurance events, such as triathlons or road races, through local chapters in several states. Captains, or those with a disability, are pushed by Angels, who are the runners. Ainsley’s Angels also sends jogger chairs, bikes, and rafts to people who are not near a local chapter and who would otherwise not be able to experience athletic events. Briley has pledged her book proceeds to Ainsley’s Angels to provide that equipment.
Briley hopes her book will inspire others to be angels, in whatever way fits into their own lives and challenges. “Everyone is unique, with a different path to follow,” she says. “Nobody can truly relate to my family’s life, but I think our story helps them look at life from a different point of view. I hope my book impacts and inspires them. Reading about how two young girls who have beaten the odds seems to motivate people. Something goes off inside them and makes them feel determined to try. That’s what inspires them—how they are able to interpret it and relate it to their life.”
She adds, “I’m a strong believer in the fact that everything happens for a reason. I believe people are put into our lives with a purpose. Some people come to help you, others come to challenge you, and others come because they need you. Ainsley is special. I believe she has come to do all of these things.”
Briley hopes her message of inclusion changes how others respond to people with disabilities. “When kids see disabled people after reading my book, I hope they don’t stare. I hope they walk over and say hello. I hope they smile at them and acknowledge that they are human, too.”
Briley wrote her book when she was eleven, in sixth grade. As a student in the International Baccalaureate World School program, with advanced classes and community service requirements, Briley is already a busy gal.
She says the hardest part of writing Born an Angel came after her book was published. “Public speaking makes me nervous and it was hard for me in the beginning,” she says. “It’s also difficult managing my time with my busy schedule. It’s gotten easier, but I wasn’t really prepared for that in the beginning.”
Briley attends book signings, reads at elementary schools and bookstores, and makes appearances across the country, averaging three to four events each month. She keeps up her own Facebook fan page. In eight months, she’s sold more than 2500 copies of her book.
Captain Ainsley with Kamden, Briley, and friend Paige Smith, whose
mom, Michelle, was Ainsley's preschool teacher and started
the Eastern Carolina chapter.
Briley takes her roles both as a young author and as a sister seriously and with a maturity beyond her years. “I know that Ainsley will not be with us forever, and I cherish every moment I get to spend with her.”
As for her eight-year-old brother, Kamden, Briley says, “I try to be very supportive of him so he doesn’t feel like he’s not as good as me just because I wrote a book. Even though he annoys me sometimes, he’s my little brother, and I love him a lot. I don’t want him to get hurt. We’ve both been through a lot. All I want to do is protect him. I’m his older sister, and it’s my job to make sure that he’s always okay.”
Briley already has her sights on another book, inspired by all she has seen the past few years and the people she has met. “Born an Angel has taught me so much, about my family, my sister, myself, and our world,” she says. “It’s taught me that I can do so much if I don’t give up. Writing a book when I was only eleven years old has opened so many opportunities. I’ve done things I wouldn’t have done before. I’ve met so many people who have changed my life. This is one of the best things that has ever happened to me.”
She adds, “I’ve learned a lot about myself through all of this, but I think the most important thing I’ve learned is that if you can dream it, you can do it. To be honest, at first I didn’t know if I’d be able to write the book, but I didn’t give up, and here we are today.”
Briley’s Facebook fan page: /BornAnAngelbyBriley
Book trailer (One of Briley’s friends, Briana Babineaux, wrote and sings the song.)
More about Ainsley, Briley’s sister and inspiration for her book.
Ainsley’s Angels of America Foundation:
Briley has pledged her author proceeds from her book Born an Angel to Ainsley’s Angels of America. The foundation, cofounded by Briley’s dad, Major Kim Rossiter, USMC, helps anyone with a disability take part in a race. In addition, Ainsley’s Angels of America aims to build awareness about America’s special needs community through inclusion in all aspects of life, by promoting awareness, providing education, and participating as active members in local communities.
Twitter & Instagram: @Ainsleys_Angels
Buy the book: While you can buy Born an Angel at your favorite bookseller or on Amazon.com, purchasing directly from the foundation ensures the most dollars go directly to the cause. MilitaryFamilyBooks.com has agreed to process orders on behalf of the foundation. All proceeds will be sent to the foundation; MilitaryFamilyBooks.com does not keep any of the funds collected. Briley has autographed each book.
All proceeds to Ainsley's Angels when you buy here.
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In this month's Readers Write exclusive, we look at the big difference 12-year-old Briley Rossiter is making as an author and a big sister.
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