Maple Crest Farm helps Parma Heights woman beat all the odds

by Dan Holland

For Chrissy Aitken, who became a quadruple amputee following a house fire during her childhood, defying the odds has been a common theme throughout her life.

The 33-year-old Parma Heights woman, who was not expected to survive after suffering third- and fourth-degree burns during the accident, is currently training at Maple Crest Farm and Equestrian Center in Brecksville to compete as a member of the U.S. para-equestrian driving team in the FEI Para Driving World Championships, to be held Aug. 23-27, in Exloo, Netherlands.

Aitken first developed a love for horse riding and carriage driving after she won a contest for free horse-riding lessons at Maple Crest Farm while attending a camp for burn victims in 2010. After riding for about a year, equestrian trainer Stacey Giere recommended Aitken give carriage driving a try. Aitken, who lost both hands and feet as a result of her injuries, uses specially-made cuffs that allow her to train and compete.

“Chrissy and I have worked together to problem-solve; equipment can be a problem where we have to modify equipment to suit her needs and physical requirements,” explained Giere, who trains Aitken two to three times a week at Maple Crest. “We worked together on that to figure out what worked best for her.”

“I tried driving, and we ended up sticking with it,” said Aitken. “Driving is not necessarily easier to do, but it’s easier on my body because it takes away having to balance myself. I’m more secure sitting versus being on a horse.”

Competing with some of the world’s best in the para world championships has been a goal of Aitken for some time, as she has faced and conquered a myriad of challenges and obstacles throughout her life. She has been training in the sport with Giere for the last seven years.

“I think it’s a huge dreamer goal,” said Aitken. “I’ve been driving for years and getting better and better, and this year is the world championship. It’s so neat. What better way to show your progress than by representing the United States?”

Aitken looks forward to competing alongside her mentor, Bob Giles, with whom she has trained and competed with in the Florida (winter) para carriage driving circuit for a number of years. Giles, who is a three-time Purple Heart recipient due to injuries sustained during the Vietnam War, has participated in para carriage driving competitions for several decades.

“It may be his last chance to compete at this level, so I want to be there with him representing the country together since he’s been my mentor from day one and has helped me get to this point,” said Aitken. “I met him when I first began competing in Florida and he told me I should join the para circuit down there. We developed a friendship from there. We push each other and have a good rivalry and competitive friendship.”

Each nation participating in the para driving world championships, which is equivalent to the Paralympics for the sport, selects six competitors to participate, Aitken explained. Giere said she plans on attending the world championships this summer with Aitken.

“She proves to people that if you put your mind to something and push yourself, then you can achieve your dreams,” said Giere. “The best part about working with Chrissy is her determination – she never gives up. It’s been an honor and pleasure as well as a challenge in working with her over the years.”

Aitken said she’s looking forward to having the chance to represent her country.

“Not everyone gets that opportunity,” said Aitken. “It’s a big milestone of all the training and everything we’ve overcome together to get to this point.”

Beyond competition, carriage driving provides Aitken with a sense of independence and also serves as a form of therapy.

“It gives me a sense of freedom because I’m not restricted with my disabilities when I’m behind the horse, versus everyday life in which there are some things I can and can’t do,” Aitken explained. “But when I’m competing with the horses in that sport, it’s more of a level playing field.

“It’s very therapeutic, as if the outside world doesn’t exist when I’m there; almost like a bubble,” Aitken continued. “And because of horses and Maple Crest, I’ve met so many great people that I wouldn’t have met otherwise, because I was never very outgoing, and horses force you to be outgoing and social. It’s a win-win situation.”

Her travel and competition expenses come with a hefty price tag. A fundraising event to help Aitken with her expenses will be held May 27 at Rookies Sports Bar and Grill in Parma from 5 p.m-8 p.m. Donations can also be made at Maple Crest Farm, located at 6530 Miller Rd., in Brecksville. ∞

Chrissy Aitkin will compete as a member
of the U.S. para-equestrian driving team
in the FEI Para Driving World Championships
in the Netherlands in August.
Photo submitted.

On our cover: Chrissy Aitken, who trains at Maple Crest Farm and Equestrian Center
in Brecksville, takes the reins duirng the dressage portion of the Live
Oak International competition in Ocala, Florida, in March 2022. Photo by John Robinson/Pics of You.