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VIProfile: Avery Flatford

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By Gay Lyons 
Photography by Katharine Emlen

“Daughter, sister, granddaughter, friend, softball player, lefty pitcher, artist, honor roll student, sushi lover, popcorn enthusiast, social media junky and listener of music of all kinds who happens to have cystic fibrosis.”

That’s how Avery Flatford, age 13, described herself when she was awarded the January Athlete of the Month Award by Team Boomer in January 2017, a few months before winning the Team Boomer Award. 

The Team Boomer Award is given by the Boomer Esiason Foundation to encourage people with cystic fibrosis to incorporate exercise into their everyday lives. Exercise brings great health benefits to people living with cystic fibrosis.

Former professional quarterback and current network color commentator Boomer Esiason and his wife created the foundation after their son, Gunnar, was diagnosed with the disease in 1993. The foundation’s mission is to heighten awareness, education and quality of life for those affected by cystic fibrosis, while providing financial support to research aimed at finding a cure.

Team Boomer was the brainchild of Jerry Cahill, who was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at the age of 11. Following a 27 year career in apparel, a decline in his lung function led him to retire and become a volunteer at the Boomer Esiason Foundation, where he launched Team Boomer.

Cystic fibrosis is a progressive genetic disease that causes persistent lung infections and limits the ability to breathe over time. In people with cystic fibrosis, a defective gene causes a thick, sticky buildup of mucus in the lungs, pancreas and other organs. There is no cure yet, but improved treatments have led to longer life expectancy and better quality of life.
Avery, an eighth grader at Farragut Middle School, is matter of fact about having cystic fibrosis.

“I was 18 months old when I was diagnosed. As I’ve grown up, I’ve gotten used to it. I don’t know anything different. Having CF has taught me to be mentally tough as well as a leader when battling adversity.”

“I honestly think I was born a fighter,” said Avery. “When I was little, I’d go to a clinic and have to get blood drawn. I’d fight. They’d have to hold me down. I’ve grown out of it.”
These days Avery uses her fighting spirit to advantage on the softball field.

“When I was five, my dad gave me the decision to play soccer or softball, but I missed the deadline for softball, so I went with soccer, “she said. “Then my dad kinda pushed me to softball. I grew to love the game and the competition.” 

Avery, who aspires to be the first college-level softball pitcher with cystic fibrosis, decided to be a pitcher when she was nine.

“Around 9 years old, everyone found their spot, and I thought I’ll find my spot,” said Avery. “I’m left handed, and being left handed you’re kind of limited. Outfield or pitcher or first base. In middle school years if I wasn’t pitching, I was playing first. I like being a pitcher. I like the competition, all eyes on me, and the ball’s in my hand. I love it.” 

“I think it is hard sometimes,” she continued. “I have to do what other kids don’t, but I think doing all the interviews has helped me talk and not be afraid. My parents have never sheltered me from my disease.” 

Describing how having cystic fibrosis affects her daily routine, Avery said, “I have 
to wake up at 6:15 a.m. to do hypertonic saline, my best therapy. I have to take medicines. I have to have good full meals. I have to have 5,000 calories a day. Popcorn, peanut butter. I get Waffle House T-bone steaks. It’s so good. I eat popcorn everywhere. I eat two bags at tournaments. I like extra butter though.” 

Avery said, “I want to inspire younger people who have CF to find something that inspires them. 

“[Winning the award] is a tremendous honor, and it is something that I’ll always have. There are over 30,000 of us living with Cystic Fibrosis in the United States and 70,000 worldwide, so to be the first one [to receive the Team Boomer Award] is special. [I received] 80,190 total votes, and I want to make every person who voted for me proud and be part of my journey.

“I want to use this award to be able to speak on behalf of all of us to help find a cure and, if not a cure, then continued advancement of treatments to help all of us live long lives. My parents from the time I was little always told me to advocate for myself, but now I can take this opportunity to advocate for us all.

“Hopefully my story of having cystic fibrosis and being considered one of the best softball pitchers in the United States by ‘Extra Inning Softball’ can help bring more awareness for our disease. But my story and winning the Team Boomer Award can also inspire others living with cystic fibrosis. You can do anything you want and be the best at it, softball, baseball, lacrosse, surfing, music, football, art or whatever you dream to do. Winning this award gives me the platform to help future generations have a normal life.

“My inspiration comes from Jeremiah 29:11,” said Avery. “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’ 

“I believe God has a plan for me to be able to talk about my disease and spread awareness and be open.” 

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