Lauren Williams of Glen Burnie, uses a hand cycle to stay active and fit as she deals with the effects of Friedreich's Ataxia, a degenerative disorder of the nervous system. (Lloyd Fox/Baltimore Sun video)

Lauren Williams and her father unbox the treasure: a three-wheeled cycle, powered by the arms.

Larry Williams adjusts the footrests and affixes Lauren's feet with Velcro straps. Lauren, 26, narrows her eyes in determination, pushes one pedal with her right hand, the other with her left, and rolls away at a good clip.

Her father, a baseball coach, watches her go.

"If I had a team full of players like her, I could own the world," he says.

For other young adults, a new bicycle might mean an opportunity to shed pounds, travel sustainably or just get out in the elements more often.

For Lauren Williams, who won the $4,000 hand cycle in an essay contest, it's a chance to do things she could otherwise never dream of.

The Glen Burnie woman has Friedereich's ataxia, a rare but severe neuromuscular disorder that causes progressive degeneration of nerve and muscle tissue.

Over the past 17 years, it has robbed her of normal coordination in her limbs, slowed her speech, distorted her spine and placed her in a wheelchair most of her waking life.

Friedereich's ataxia affects about 20,000 people in Europe and North America. There is no known cure.

"When I look at everything that's happened since I was diagnosed, then try to picture what's going to happen from now on, it can be a little scary," Williams says.

For now, she says, she's focusing on what she can do, not what she can't.


Lauren Williams was an active child. It runs in the family.

Larry, a former minor-league infielder in the Pittsburgh Pirates system, runs BATT Academy, a baseball training site in Glen Burnie. Lauren's older brother, Anthony, is head baseball coach at the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg. One grandfather, a World War II combat veteran, became a champion marathoner in his 60s and still runs the races at 89.

From kindergarten on, Lauren hit the soccer field, practiced jazz dance and ballet and was out riding bikes.

"You couldn't keep her in the house," Larry says.

But when she was 9, she began to experience a change. While using roller blades, Lauren started losing control and falling.

Her mother, Pat, and father took her to a neurologist. Upon spotting her stagger, he diagnosed her almost right away.

"I had no idea what Friedereich ataxia was, and neither did" her parents, Lauren remembers. "But when the doctor talked to them, I remember the shocked looks on their faces." she says.

The family rode home in silence.