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RHS senior met her challenges

Brianna Albers is confined to a wheelchair because of a condition called spinal muscular atrophy.

The first time Maureen Kelly-Carroll met Brianna Albers she thought the incoming Rosemount High School freshman was a little, well, optimistic.

Albers was an eighth grader at Rosemount Middle School then, and she was planning a full schedule of advanced classes the following year. She also didn't expect to be in the building at all during the winter trimester.

Albers, who will graduate June 1 with the rest of the class of 2013, has a condition called spinal muscular atrophy that causes her muscles to waste away. She gets sick easily, and when she does it's likely to lead to a multi-day stay at the hospital. That's why she spends cold-and-flu season at home.

But Albers wanted the kind of schedule that would challenge a full-time student, and she wanted to do it on a part-time schedule. Even during the parts of the year Albers attends school in person she has only a five-period day because she tires easily. She misses many classroom discussions, and she's not always there to ask a teacher when she needs extra help.

"My thought was, this is never going to work," said Kelly-Carroll, chairperson of the special education department at RHS.

It worked, though, because Albers made it work. She didn't just take advanced classes, she excelled in them. She will graduate this year with a 3.9 GPA. She worked on the Irish Gazette, the school's newspaper, in her freshman and sophomore years. She has written a science fiction/fantasy novel that currently sits on her computer's hard drive. And last year as a junior she won the Yale Book Award for work submitted on her behalf by English teacher Nancy Storm.

Albers can't use a pen or type on a regular keyboard, but she can type as fast as most of her classmates with an onscreen keyboard she controls with a mouse.

"I think your classmates are kind of in awe ... because she does some pretty fantastic things," Kelly-Carroll said.

Most people who have spinal muscular atrophy don't have long lives. Albers said she was expected to die by age 9. She has made it well past that now, and she has succeeded, she said, because of the support and the motivation she gets from her family.

"I did it for my family," Albers said. "They're very supportive of everything I do and always challenging me to try harder."

It's hard to imagine Albers could try too much harder than she already does. At the end of the second trimester this year she took four AP exams in one day. Most students, Kelly-Carroll said, would try to spread that many tests out over a few days.

Albers didn't have the same kind of high school experience many of her classmates did. She didn't go to football games or other sporting events. And while she got along well with the students in her AP classes it was sometimes hard to connect with the student population as a whole.

She enjoyed her time at RHS, though.

"The stuff that matters," she said. "I've enjoyed my classes here. I've loved my teachers. The staff is so kind and helpful."

Albers plans to attend Bethel University next year to major in English. Her dream is to become a published author.