From the moment 7-year-old MacKenzie French, from Syracuse, New York, stepped on to the field at Vetta Sports, her infectious smile never disappeared.
Her bubbly personality, never wavered.
“When we first met her, she was very, very shy," said Corey Adamson, St. Louis Ambush midfielder. "She was very quiet. She was very reserved. A lot of that had to do with the fact that she wasn’t very mobile. She couldn’t move like a normal kid so she didn’t feel like a normal kid.”
Just five short years ago, Mackenzie was diagnosed with cerebral palsy and over the next several years it began to affect her mobility.
“She couldn’t run. She couldn’t play. She couldn’t do things that normal kids should be doing," said MacKenzie's mom Linda French.
Meaning, playing the game of soccer — a game that she grew up watching all her cousins play — would turn into a distant memory.
“The diagnosis that we got from the doctors in Syracuse was, 'I don’t think she’s ever going to do this, or ever going to do that,'" Linda said.
A diagnosis that quickly changed once MacKenzie made the trip to St. Louis Children’s Hospital.
“Meeting Dr. Parks, he never once said he doesn’t see her doing something and that was huge right there," Linda said.
As a result, MacKenzie had spinal cord surgery, or as it’s better known as, selective dorsal rhizotomy, on July 12. For 17 weeks she endured more in her young life than most people will in a lifetime.
And with every step she took, it carried so much hope.
“You wouldn’t think that there would be this much strength in this little tiny body,” Linda said.
Throughout those 17 weeks, MacKenzie had several cheerleaders in her corner, but none more influential than the St. Louis Ambush.
“They’ve kept in contact with us for the past 17 weeks, and every big milestone that she’s hit, all three of them have sent like congratulations and cheering her on," Linda said. "I think that’s really helped her with confidence and getting her to fight more.”
Because getting Mackenzie back in the game, is more important than any final number on the scoreboard.
“Every kid, it reminds you of yourself when you’re that age. You know? Full of hope, and wonder, and happiness, and joy," Adamson said. "You remember this game for what it was. It’s a job for us now, but when we were that age that was what we wanted to do every second of every day we just wanted to play.
“We are in many eyes role models and the faces of a city, and a sport that we love very dearly. So, you have to come out and you have to do as much for the city to represent it the right way, the proper way, and represent its people the right way.”