A Cambodia-born girl who has lived in the United States since her adoption as a baby by an American family is saddling up to represent her country of birth in show jumping at the SEA Games in Malaysia this August.
The Cambodian Equestrian Federation (CEF) led by President Mona Tep is all agog at the prospect of the talented 17-year old Eleanor Lynn, who goes by the nickname “Nora” among friends and family, making the national team as one of the brightest medal hopes of recent times.
“We can realistically hope for a medal in Malaysia if Nora performs to her full potential. Her story is very inspiring and we are eagerly awaiting her arrival,” Tep, herself an accomplished jump rider, told The Post on Tuesday.
The CEF has been coordinating closely with the National Olympic Committee of Cambodia to make sure Nora’s childhood dream of riding for her country comes true.
Since coming in contact with the equestrian fraternity here on her return to the Kingdom for the first time nearly four years ago, Nora has been religiously training with a Cambodian flag plastered on the inside lid of her riding materials trunk, never wavering in her belief that she will one day win a medal.
Nora’s family from Albuquerque, New Mexico, adopted her as an infant. She attends high school where her love for maths and physics can only compete with her passion for the horses she rides between 20-25 hours a week with 10-12 show weeks thrown in each year.
Nora began riding when she was almost 6 years old. She went to watch a friend’s pony lesson, after which she pestered her parents for months for the same. They relented and she began riding ponies and quickly progressed to horses. The family had no background in horses but that didn’t stop Nora – though riding didn’t come so easy either.
At a very young age, Nora developed a hearing impairment, which clearly manifested itself in balance issues. Yet she refused to give up.
She began competing at small local events when she was 7. Her early years did not yield great success. But she loved the sport and the horses, wherever she finished, and she placed well in her age groups.
When she was 10, she started taking lessons and watching master clinics at riding centres in Florida and California, where much higher levels of skill were on display compared to her own small city.
But on the sidelines, she got interested in the activities of the JustWorld International, an organisation founded by former Grand Prix jumper Jessica Newman, where equestrians from all over the world help in the goal of fundraising and supporting schools in under-resourced areas.
It was in her role as an ambassador for JustWorld, supporters of People Improvement Organization schools in Phnom Penh, that eventually brought her to Cambodia to visit the institutions she and her friends had been helping.
The visit also opened up a chance for her to meet representatives from the Cambodian Equestrian Federation. After reading an article about the Maddox therapeutic riding programme at the Cambodian Country Club she started collecting helmets, boots and other equipment, delivering them to Cambodian riders.
Following her trip to Phnom Penh, Nora received brand new, technologically advanced hearing aids that brought about huge improvements in her balance and hearing. It immediately showed in the horse park – she won several important events and was invited to compete in the 2013 National Finals in Washington, DC.
As her record picked up so did her ability to tackle higher levels of competition and handle higher jumps. Consequently, Nora enjoys a distinct advantage among Cambodian riders as she is the only one to have jumped hurdles as high as the 135-140cm ones Malaysia offers.
Currently, Nora is training with a high-ranked American Grand Prix rider, Kristin Hardin. It requires biweekly trips from her home in New Mexico to the trainer’s base, or to competitions, in California, some 1,600 kilometres away.
“She has the full support of our family as well as a growing list of sponsors who are assisting Nora, and the other Cambodian team members, with important equipment and other support,” Nora’s mother Theresa Lynn told The Post in an email.