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    Adopted 6th grader is state cross country champion

    January 6, 2019

    WADAMALAW ISLAND, S.C. (AP) — When Bella Thornley was 19 months old, she wobbled off of a plane in Washington, D.C., and saw George Thornley standing across the terminal.

    The little girl excitedly called him “Papa,” even though it was her first time seeing him in person.

    “She recognized him from pictures we sent her when she was in Ethiopia,” said Diana Thornley, Bella’s adopted mother.

    That was in 2009. Today, the Thornleys live on Wadamalaw Island and are the proud parents of 14 adopted children, from ages four months to 18. The children hail from China, Panama, and all over the U.S., including Charleston.

    Bella is 11 and in the sixth grade. And like her siblings, she finds a way to stand out from the rest. Just ask Jon Lakemacher, her cross country coach at James Island Christian School.

    Last month, Lakemacher watched his star athlete clinch the South Carolina Independent School Association title for the 1A Girls 5,000 meter run. That translates to 3.1 miles.

    “Keep in mind, Bella’s only in sixth grade, and she was out there beating juniors and seniors,” Lakemacher said. “She’s remarkable.”

    At the state competition in Columbia, Bella clocked 22:10:84, about 15 seconds faster than the second place finisher, a sophomore from Laurens County.

    She’s still beaming over the state title, but she’s also taking it in stride. For her, it’s a huge step on the road to becoming one of the best ever.

    “I just want to beat my best time,” she said. “I really like competing and seeing how good I can do each time I run.”

    Her coach, family and friends do the bragging for her. Lakemacher said she spent the first mile or so keeping pace with the other racers.

    And by the start of mile 3, she made her move.

    “She gave us this slight smile, and took off. We knew she had it,” Lakemacher said.

    That confidence is what made Bella an undisputed champion. But her humility starts at home, where she and her siblings play soccer, basketball, and a form of dodgeball called ga-ga ball.

    Bella’s the eighth oldest and doesn’t like being bossed around by the teenagers, her mom joked. But she still leans on their support and is also a great big sister to the little ones.

    “We love the family we have, and obviously, we’re huge advocates of adoption,” Diana Thornely said, adding that all of her children from America have been open adoptions, which allows the birth mothers to remain part of their lives.

    And for Bella, having so many siblings is a dream come true.

    “We get to do things most families can’t and our parents are really supportive of all of us,” she said.

    Bella’s mom and dad recall her first few days with them, when she would jump out of her crib multiple times a night and walk to their room. That’s when they knew it was time for a bed.

    That’s been the story of Bella’s life, her mom said.

    The sixth grader has always moved at her own pace. And the rest of the world, from her family to cross country opponents, must try to keep up.


    Information from: The Post and Courier, http://www.postandcourier.com

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