Ever since Molly Edwards can remember, she's been into horses _ and not sort of into horses, really into horses.
Clear evidence of her devotion: For her ninth birthday, her cake was a row of upside-down chocolate cupcakes, a homage to horse droppings.
Molly loves Saddle Club books, plays with a miniature barn and dreams: One day I will own a horse.
Nov. 29, two weeks after her 11th birthday, Molly was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, a cancer more common in adults. Her illness would have been unbearable _ the spinal taps, the chemotherapy _ if it weren't for being preoccupied with her wish for Make-A-Wish.
In the hospital and at cancer camp, it is all the kids talk about, said Molly. I'm going to see the Backstreet Boys, one kid would say. I'm going on a shopping spree, another would chime in.
Molly, a quiet child who lives in south Tampa, would wait for them to finish. And then announce her wish: to get a pony. And not just any pony. She wanted a wild Chincoteague pony from Pony Island in Virginia.
Molly learned about the ponies from a novel, Misty of Chincoteague, written in 1947 by Marguerite Henry.
"Molly is a huge reader," said Sara Edwards, her mother. She takes a book with her everywhere: to the restaurant, in the car.
In Misty of Chincoteague, two kids spend months harvesting clams to earn money to buy a Pony Island pony.
Molly read the book when she was 8 and thought for sure Pony Island did not exist. Then one day she ran toward her mother, waving Young Equestrian magazine and a story about Pony Island. It does exist! Molly said.
According to legend, a Spanish galleon shipwrecked near the tiny island off the coast near where Virginia and Maryland meet. The ponies on the ship swam to safety.
Today, the island is a nature preserve, and residents of nearby Chincoteague Island take care of the ponies.
Every July, to keep herd numbers down, about 70 to 80 young ponies are herded off. The animals swim across the channel at low tide. The next day, they are sold at auction, and the money raised goes to the local fire department.
The annual pony swim at Chincoteague (pronounced shinko-teeg) is now in its 77th year. It attracts thousands.
Molly and her family went three years ago.
"We watched the swim and the auction, and it was really something to see," said Sara Edwards. "All you see are the heads of the ponies going across the water."
Today, Molly and her family travel to Virginia. Wednesday is the annual pony swim. Thursday, Molly will bid on the pony of her choice. Sunday, she should be back in Tampa with a horse.
All expenses are being paid by Make-A-Wish, a national foundation that grants wishes to children with life-threatening illnesses. Molly's wish is the Tampa chapter's 800th.
"I am so excited that I think it's going slow," said Molly, whose cancer now is in remission.
She has prepared for the trip _ by reading. In one book, she found a name for her pony: Zink.
In that book, a girl with cancer imagines three zebras visiting her in the hospital, Molly said. They take the girl to Africa, where she meets Zink, a polka-dotted zebra who teaches her a big lesson that guides her through her illness: how to be brave.
_ Babita Persaud can be reached at persaudsptimes.com or (813) 226-3322.