Dressage Athlete Bea De Lavalette
Positions Herself for Paralympic Homecoming
By Jewel Connelly, Communications Specialist
To say that 24-year-old Beatrice “Bea” de Lavalette has overcome a lot in the last seven years would be an understatement. Narrowly surviving the 2016 Brussels Airport bombings and becoming a bilateral amputee as a teen, her compelling journey is a testament to the resiliency of the human spirit and the power of sport.
Inheriting her mother’s passion for horses, it was ultimately this unbreakable bond between horse and rider that became Bea’s lifeline in her darkest months after the incident. Fast forward to 2023 and she is one of the best para-dressage athletes (Grade II) in the world, consistently ranking at the top of the leaderboard in international competition. After making her Paralympic debut in Tokyo on Clarc, Bea is especially looking forward to qualifying for Paris 2024 with Team USA and competing steps away from her hometown.
Born in Versailles to American parents, Bea grew up riding horses in France and moved to Belgium with her family when she was 15. March 22, 2016, started as just an ordinary travel day as Bea arrived at the airport on her way to visit family in Florida. As she stood in line with her baggage, suddenly everything went dark, and Bea experienced the feeling of being lifted off the ground.
Coming to after the blasts, she recalls seeing fire and ash and noticing her body was burned and bleeding. With her leg broken, she mustered enough energy to raise her hand and first responders came to her aid. Due to the severity of her injuries, Bea was placed in a medically induced coma for over a month and spent four months in total in the ICU before beginning inpatient rehab.
As the most critically injured survivor, Bea faced a double amputation below the knee and sustained permanent spinal cord damage that caused paralysis from the hips down. Hoping to lift her spirits with a surprise visit, Elizabeth brought her daughter’s mare, DeeDee, to the hospital parking lot and the sweet reunion was just the turning point Bea needed. Feeling her horse’s unconditional love and acceptance pulled her out of the abyss and ignited within her the belief that she could still become a professional athlete. Just five months after the attack, Bea was back in the saddle as she began the process of learning how to ride with her new body.
While learning to communicate with a horse takes dedication and patience for any rider, doing so without the use of her legs posed a new challenge for Bea to master. Connecting with trainer Shayna Simon, the pair began working together at the end of 2017 and their close relationship has been instrumental in Bea’s continued development and ability to communicate using two whips.
“At first I used my whips quite a bit and I was told to stop using them as much,” Bea revealed, laughing. “Instead, I had to learn other ways to get my horse to go forward, using voice commands loudly, specific noises, balance, and my trunk.”
Because she’s unable to feel her legs, Bea is secured with a customized dressage saddle yet rides independently using carbon fiber prostheses to help balance her horse.
As she began riding different competition horses, each also had to adapt and learn what Bea was asking for with her aids. Her current dance partner, Sixth Sense, had not been trained as a para horse before she got him, but just a little over a year into their partnership the two have made tremendous progress as they prepare for the upcoming Paralympics.
“In the beginning, [Sixth Sense] learned that he could take a little bit of an advantage with me because I couldn’t use my legs,” Bea said. “Shayna had to work really hard to get him to engage his back without having to use her legs as much.”
Bea’s dreams have already come full circle after years of sacrifice and persistence paying off in Tokyo, but the opportunity to compete in Paris carries even greater personal significance.
“I’m so excited to go home and show the world what I’ve done,” Bea said. “It’s going to be pretty emotional for me because the host venue is five minutes from where I grew up. You could see the Chateau de Versailles from where I lived.”
Well on her way to qualification with recent wins in Wellington, Florida, and Doha, Qatar, Bea has not allowed fear to stop her from traveling the world to compete in the sport she loves. “Life gives you cards, and it’s your choice whether or not to go all in,” Bea said. “So, I decided to go all in.”
Follow Bea on the road to Paris on Facebook (@BeatricedeLavalette) or Instagram (@beatriceldl).
To share your own journey, go to https:/blog.amputee-coalition.org/wethrive-stories.