By Lisa Hughes

HINGHAM (CBS) – Maria Cerio was paralyzed by a rare disease as a child, and today she’s getting ready for her first road race.

This young woman’s story is one of hard work, determination and never giving up. And now she is using her own experience to inspire others.

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“Tomorrow I’m running the Fourth of July road race in Hingham. It’s always been a goal of mine,” said Maria Cerio. “I just want the timer to be up, and I want to see my friends and family at the finish line, so I’m super excited about it.”

Maria Cerio will run a Fourth of July road race despite having been paralyzed as a child. (WBZ-TV)

Cerio never dreamed she’d make it to the starting line.

“Originally I completely wrote running off. I didn’t think it was an option,” she said.

That’s because when she was only three she was struck by transverse myelitis, a rare disease that attacks the spinal cord.

“I was paralyzed from the neck down. And I was not supposed to regain function of my upper or lower extremities,” she said. “I wasn’t supposed to walk again, but here I am, defying the odds. It’s still a challenge, but I’m working on it every day.”

That means for the last 17 years Cerio has been doing intensive physical therapy, battling chronic fatigue and advancing one step at a time.

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She’s currently training for her first road race at Journey Forward, a paralysis rehab center in Canton.

Her Hingham run is dedicated to the center and to everyone who helped her along the way.

The slogan on her shirt sums her message: “Running for those who can’t.”

“I was once the person on the back of the t-shirt. I think it’s so important to make sure that individuals with spinal cord injuries are living just as full lives as everyone else,” Cerio said.

She will run with her Journey Forward specialist, Margo Turner.

“I’m really excited for Maria. She’s worked really hard for this, and I think it’s going to be a huge celebration. I’m really excited for her to see that time on the clock,” Turner said.

“I just want people to see me, and see what I’m capable of,” Cerio said.

In the future Cerio wants to become a physical therapist. She will be a senior at The George Washington University in the fall and is working at Spaulding Rehab this summer.

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As a Hingham native, she grew up watching the road race. Tomorrow, she’ll conquer the four and a half mile run.

Lisa Hughes