The junior overcame cerebral palsy and ataxia through hard work — the same ingredient she uses on the court.
EVERETT — Archbishop Murphy’s Lilli Budinick, a junior on the junior-varsity volleyball team, caught the eye of coach Brandon Jones at the first tryout during her freshman year.
It’s not uncommon for a freshman to catch the eye of a coach. What makes it worth noting is that it had almost nothing to do with the diagnosis doctors in her hometown of St. Louis made when she was born — or the grim outlook that came along with it.
Budinick has cerebral palsy and ataxia. She came in to this world without a heartbeat and after 11 minutes of the emergency-room staff performing CPR, she was pronounced dead. Lilli’s father, Tom, asked that a nurse bless his daughter with holy water, given to him by his mother, that he carried. The nurse obliged, and miraculously the doctors found a heartbeat.
The prognosis was bleak.
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Doctors told Budinick’s parents 11 minutes without oxygen to the brain would likely mean Lilli may never walk, talk, see or hear.
But the 17-year-old is proof doctors can be wrong.
It was a long road as Budinick went through years of physical, occupational and speech therapy, but today there is little to distinguish her from any other kid her age.
“She was a miracle,” her mother Lisa said. “It’s what (doctors) have called her. … She’s used in teaching at Washington University in St. Louis. They put her picture up and explain her story. From what they’ve learned in textbooks (they ask), what’s this child going to be? And that’s what they say, she’s not going to walk and she’s not going to talk. Then they put a picture up of her playing volleyball, and they’re all amazed.”
Budinick started playing volleyball in the fifth grade and fell in love with the sport. She decided to try out for the volleyball team at Archbishop Murphy when she was a freshman without the coaching staff knowing anything about her condition.
Because cerebral palsy affects muscle tone, movement and motor skills, one of the few places her struggles are at all visible is when she is active.
“We figured that there was something, but we didn’t know anything,” Jones said. “So what really brought it through to us is just ‘Man, this kid is just a go-getter.’ She doesn’t stop, so we knew we wanted her before we knew anything (about her condition).”
Budinick’s work ethic comes, in large part, from her parents, who never treated her differently than any other child.
“They say hard work pays off,” Lilli Budinick said. “In my family, we know it’s all true. … Looking from freshman year to my junior year, I’ve seen that. I’ve come to know what that is and what my standard is, not only for myself, but for my parents and my brother. I’ve learned to accept that. I work hard because of that.”
Members of the volleyball program that do know can’t help but be inspired.
“She gives so much effort in what she does,” said Natalie Hayward, a junior setter for the varsity team. “Obviously we’re not usually practicing with her, but we notice what she does and we see what she does and it’s incredible.”
Budinick has never seen herself differently than anyone else her age and has made it a point to keep her medical history private.
“I’m very private about that stuff, so if I tell you, you mean something to me,” she said. “Only my good, good friends know, and my family.”
Whether or not Budinick makes the varsity team a year from now is unknown, but Jones thinks he knows what will happen if he doesn’t keep her.
“If I cut Lilli next year everyone else will probably quit,” Jones said. “I’ll have a revolt on my hands.”
Perhaps Budinick is just too important to lose.
“My personal opinion would be to keep her, because she is the heart of this program,” said Hayward.