He’s not exactly cunning.

And no one would consider him to be some sort of threatening menace.

However, when it comes to one of his pupils, Matt Davis might seem like a certain imposing large canine who ravenously feeds on caribou.

"I tease her about me being the Big Bad Wolf," the longtime Hudson swimming and diving coach said.

This once very timid young lady happens to be Maddie Horrigan, who probably won’t be confused with Little Red Riding Hood. Besides, this bashful teenager is far more partial to navy blue and white colors anyway.

However, you may want to cut the water-loving Horrigan some slack if she was a bit apprehensive when it came to a certain ultra-intense fellow.

Especially when she decided to walk alone in the woods.

Much like the revered furry spirits of nature, certain grown men have "big eyes" and "big hands." Their howls can be just as eerie too.

Even when the sky is not illuminated by a full moon.

"I was definitely scared of Matt at first," Horrigan said. "He can be very intimidating, so I avoided him."

Running scared or in this case, swimming scared has been an all-too-common occurrence for the soft-spoken butterfly/freestyle specialist.

At age 12, Horrigan was diagnosed with a common but extremely dangerous neurological disorder that affects 150,000 Americans every year, according to healthline.com.


Horrigan was diagnosed with this disorder, which causes seizures that can vary from brief and undetectable experiences to long periods of uncontrollable shaking, on May 5, 2015.

These unpredictable episodes were often short-lived. There was no physical pain and once Horrigan snapped out of it, she was back to normal in no time.

Oddly enough, though, her nightmare had just begun once her brain’s electrical activity started functioning properly again.

This type of torment, on the other hand, had nothing to do with severe wounds or serious illness. It was strictly psychological.

Worst of all, it had a tendency to transpire not only at the worst possible time, but also the worst possible place as well.

That would be the classroom.

"I kept having these spells where I would black out for a minute," Horrigan said. "It would happen right in front of the class. It was very dramatic. I was often bullied and made fun of."

Such taunts were soul-crushing to the unassuming teenager. No one seemed to have any idea about the seriousness of her situation.

Particularly her contemporaries, whose catty comments forced the already sensitive Horrigan into an inescapable dark place.

"They would say Maddie is just zoning out," Horrigan said. "She’s just messed up.

"I lost a lot of my friends. I had no confidence and I had a lot of anxiety. It was embarrassing.

"Even my parents didn’t understand me. They thought I wasn’t paying attention. In their minds, I was being rebellious and ignoring them."

"Being rebellious" isn’t such a rarity when children start to reach puberty. Oftentimes, those moments of defiance can lead to harm.

Horrigan’s so-called "disobedience" was nothing of the kind. Due to her condition, Horrigan unknowingly lost her focus during conversations with her loved ones.

It happened in front of strangers too. Horrigan had an "absence seizure," which is caused by a brief loss and return of consciousness, in another situation that was populated by people. And much like the classroom, she had nowhere to hide.

"It happened at a dance competition," Horrigan said. "That was the last straw."

Horrigan knew something was seriously wrong. Her life was falling apart before her very eyes and she could do nothing to stop it.

Reaching this conclusion turned out to be easier said than done. When it comes to healing one’s self, the crucial first step is to accept the fact that he or she needs to be healed.

Horrigan wasn’t buying it.

For her, seeing a physician was the equivalent of being taken to a lunatic asylum.

"My parents took me to a neurologist," Horrigan said. "I refused to go. I didn’t think anything was wrong with me and I didn’t want anything to be wrong with me. I ended up being dragged there."

Horrigan had a very good reason to be hesitant. She was given an electroencephalogram, which is a test used to evaluate the electrical activity in the brain.

How bad was it?

Horrigan had more than 20 electrodes attached to her head. The purpose of this monitoring method was to keep track of her brain waves.

Not surprisingly, Horrigan didn’t care for the procedure.

"They put a strobe light into your face, which is very horrible," she said. "I had to blow on a pinwheel until it forced you to hyperventilate. I was crying the whole time."

Horrigan also was told to bring something that was the primary cause of her anxiety.

That part was easy.

"It was my homework," Horrigan said.

Horrigan ended up staying overnight at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital in Cleveland.

She tried to keep her sanity by playing Yahtzee with her parents. After six agonizing hours, Horrigan’s health took a turn for the worse.

"Out of the blue, I had a bunch of seizures in a row," she said. "My parents started panicking."

Horrigan was eventually prescribed ethosuximide, which is used to treat absence seizures. She has been taking this medication twice a day ever since and has been able to keep her disorder under control since her dreaded visit to the hospital five years ago.

Horrigan is particularly grateful to Dr. Jessica Goldstein, a neurologist, and Dr. Howard Hall, a pediatric psychologist, for working with her during this scary ordeal.

"Dr. Goldstein has been so amazing this entire time," Horrigan said. "I am so blessed to have her as a doctor. She is so caring and understanding.

"Dr. Hall helped a lot with my confidence and he was super funny. He always made me laugh and brought light to everything."

Ever since she was "dragged" to the hospital for that nightmarish overnight stay, Horrigan has attended Epilepsy Foundation events to connect with others about this incurable disorder.

As one can imagine, she has plenty of stories to tell.

"The Epilepsy Foundation events are always extremely fun," Horrigan said. "They are very helpful because you are able to surround yourself with people in the same boat as you."

Despite all of these positive experiences, this Northeast Ohio version of Little Red Riding Hood wasn’t "out of the woods" yet.

Horrigan still struggled to believe in herself and also had a hard time relating to other people.

In a number of ways, Horrigan was still the same person who was teased by her classmates when her seizures became public.

In other words, she was still "messed up."

"I was at a point where I started to shut everyone out," Horrigan said. "I used to be outgoing and then I became very shy and reserved.

"The only person I talked to my freshman year was my biology teacher, Mr. (Robert) Ulrich. He understood my situation since he worked in hospitals. I finally had someone besides my family who was willing to listen."

Fortunately, it didn’t take too long for Horrigan to come out of her shell. To be honest, she didn’t have much of a choice.

Since Horrigan swam and played golf at Hudson, she quickly made plenty of friends.

"It definitely took away my anxiety," Horrigan said. "Swimming was my main escape. I just played golf for fun. I loved the golf team. They were one of the funniest teams I’ve ever been on."

Besides swimming for the Explorers, Horrigan also was a member of the Hudson Explorers Aquatics Team. Interestingly enough, the HEAT was coached by the same person who seemed to resemble a certain carnivore.

And since this formidable creature’s lungs were so powerful, Horrigan couldn’t help but worry if he could "huff and puff and blow her house down."

"I was definitely very shy around Coach Matt in the beginning," she said. "We definitely strengthened our relationship. He kind of forced us to talk to each other."

As it turned out, Davis was "stalking" her. No worries for Horrigan, though. Since she was pretty fast in the pool, it was easy for Horrigan to catch her coach’s eye.

"We get along well now," Davis said. "I’m pretty good friends with her dad. She’s definitely a quiet, shy kid. She would usually talk to our female coaches, Mallory Martin and Holly Kear. She would tell them, ‘Matt’s scary.’"

Horrigan’s high school swimming career got off to a blazing start. And then, as if it was fate, her life started to crumble again.

"I tore my bicep swimming in the summer for HEAT," Horrigan said. "I got surgery and was out for seven months."

That’s not all. After she recovered, Horrigan eventually tore her other bicep. Surprisingly, the snakebitten teenager decided to skip surgery this time. Horrigan dealt with the pain and wound up advancing to a Division I district competition in the 100-yard butterfly and 50-yard freestyle races.

"Two meets have always stuck with me," Horrigan said. "The first was my junior year at sectionals. I had a huge drop in the 50 free, which picked me up and made me hopeful.

"The other meet was making it to districts in the 100 fly. I was really excited. I was shocked because I didn’t think I would ever swim the butterfly again."

Horringan doesn’t plan on tossing her goggles aside anytime soon.

She recently decided to continue her academic and swimming careers at the University of Mount Union in Alliance. She plans to major in neuroscience.

Horrigan can only hope her new friends are just as good as her pals from Hudson, which affectionately refers to its swimmers as "boats."

"I have a lot of friends who are really supportive," Horrigan said. "They make sure I’m OK. Every swim coach has been so supportive as well."

That includes the "boats’" captain, who doesn’t have the same robust skull and powerful teeth of a ferocious creature who first became a legend in Aesop’s Fables many years ago.

As for Horrigan, Davis has turned out to be quite the opposite of this villainous, bloodthirsty mammal.

He’s actually a sheep in wolf’s clothing.

"Matt is so understanding," Horrigan said. "He’s a big part of where I am today."

Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, faceto@recordpub.com or @FrankAceto_Gannett.