Lauren Castle, Emily Proud - WATE 6 On Your Side staff - KNOXVILLE (WATE) - An East Tennessee middle school student is in the running to become the Boomer Esiason Athlete of the Year.
Avery Flatford, a rising eight-grader from Farragut Middle School, is just like any young athlete. She trains, she loves her sport and she faces adversity. She is also the only finalist for the award from Tennessee.
The softball player was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis when she was 18-months-old. At age 13, she says the condition makes just about everything a bit tougher, including her.
"There are some things that are difficult like running the bases or just keeping up at practice, but you have to learn to fight through it," said Avery. "I've had it ever since I started pitching and ever since I've been born so I've never really known anything else."
Avery says whens he was younger, teams might have passed on her because of her disease, but she used that as motivation to get her where she is today. She says she has never let cystic fibrosis stop her from being her best.
"It has hardened her a bit because she knows that she has to work harder than some kids that don't have a condition like Cystic Fibrosis," said Avery's father, Chuck Flatford. "She's a fighter and she always has been from the day she born to the day she was diagnosed. That kids a fighter and that's what everybody will say about her."
The progressive, genetic disease causes a build up of mucus in the lungs, pancreas and other organs. This can lead to infections, lung damage, and respiratory failure, according to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.
"It's not she's good for having cystic fibrosis, she's good because she's good," said Jamie Carr, Avery's pitching coach. "I just think she wants people to respect her as an athlete and not feel sorry for her that she has that. I think she has to work harder than a lot of other people but she just wants that respect on the field."
Winning the award would mean a lot to Avery and those who care about her. She hopes to become the first college pitcher with the disease and inspire others.
"Having CF has taught me to be mentally tough as well as a leader when battling adversity," said Avery. "This team Boomer competition will help me get my story out and inspire others by them reading or just even seeing it on the news."
Avery is currently neck-in-neck with another athlete. Voting closes June 6.
Many Tennesseans are encouraging people to vote, including Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett, Rep. Jason Zachary and businesses like Val's Boutique.
"It would be an acknowledgment to her for the hard work that she has put in basically since the day she was born. Not just through softball but thorough life," said Chuck Flatford. "To be the first Tennessean ever acknowledged by the Boomer Esiasen Foundation, to be the first softball player, it was an honor in itself and she'll never have that taken away from her. She's just a great ambassador for those with cystic fibrosis to live a healthy and fulfilling life and strive to achieve your goals each and every day."