Buying a home is a big milestone for any 20-year-old, but for Rylee Robinson, it’s the pinnacle of her independence. Turning that key for the first time was an important step in a journey that began years ago, the culmunation of many hours of hard work and dedication.
In May 2013, Rylee, then 13 years old, was riding her bicycle on the shoulder of a road in her hometown of Topeka, Kansas when she was struck from behind by a distracted driver. Rylee was severely injured, left with a traumatic brain injury and amputated leg.
In need of extensive rehabilitation, her family turned to Madonna, where Rylee spent seven months in inpatient and outpatient therapy. Rylee broke down barriers—rediscovering her voice, relearning how to walk and refueling her love for softball—with the help of the Husker softball team.
Her resilience and remarkable recovery inspired Rylee’s care team, who nicknamed her “Smiley Rylee” as she bounced back from a traumatic brain injury and amputated leg. In fall 2014, she was nominated for a Madonna GOAL Award to recognize the gains she made, her can-do attitude and infectious smile that lit up the therapy gym.
“It doesn’t seem like six years ago [since my GOAL Award], it seems like yesterday almost,” Rylee said, recalling her past. “Amazing that I am able to do everything normal people can do.”
Today, Smiley Rylee continues to be a light to everyone she meets.
“I try to let them know you can do it, trust in yourself,” Rylee said.
She’s capitalized upon her words with actions. Rylee’s involvement in her community is vast. She plays on several unified sports teams: softball, basketball, soccer and bowling. She’s even traveled to Washington D.C. to advocate for continued funding for unified sports in front of Congress.
Rylee now works as a cashier at Dialogue Coffee House in Topeka, she earned her driver’s license and draws and sells artwork in her free time.
She’s also active in YoungLife and attends the group’s annual summer camp.
“We hiked up a mountain in Colorado,” Rylee said, describing one of her recent trips, pre-COVID-19. “It felt awesome that I was able to do it and was able to power through it. I had a bunch of friends that helped me climb up the mountain.”
Rylee’s rehabilitation journey at Madonna no doubt shaped her into the young adult she is today. She hopes her story will continue to inspire others navigating life’s challenges.
“Just know you can do it,” She said. “You just have to put your mind to it and work hard, and put your trust in God.”