An Apple Valley woman has overcome health issues to be at this weekend's Lifetime Fitness event.
Cheryl Athearn refused to accept her "death sentence."
Fourteen years ago, the Air Force aerospace physiologist cringed in a chair as a neurologist delivered results of an magnetic resonance imaging exam, confirming her diagnosis of multiple sclerosis.
The disease meant a number of things for Athearn. She couldn't serve her country in the same capacity anymore. She couldn't participate in marathons anymore. She wasn't supposed to eat chocolate or drink caffeine. She wasn't supposed to have children. The thought of being trapped, losing control of her life depressed her.
"I told my husband, "'You can leave me,'" she said.
But slowly she kept fighting -- empowered by her faith in God and the support of her husband. Then the symptoms stopped. And the shackles fell off.
Saturday, the Apple Valley resident will swim in Lake Nokomis, then bike and run the rest of the Minneapolis course with her husband at the Lifetime Fitness Triathlon in front of an audience containing her three children. Oh, and if she finishes, a batch of chocolate brownies awaits her.
"MS doesn't define every aspect of my life," said Athearn, a 44-year-old originally from Poquoson, Va. "There are people that have progressive types of MS that handicaps them in all their activities, so I'm blessed in that sense. The big thing for me was not letting these things limit me."
At first, her road to recovery, road to the life she had before being diagnosed was daunting. Athearn's symptoms wouldn't go away, and she had "five to six big flare-ups" where she "needed medical steroids." So, she took it slow.
"If I couldn't move, we went walking," she said. "If I couldn't run as fast as I used to run, we ran slower."
Eventually Athearn built up her fitness and endurance to train and participate in marathons again like she did in the Air Force in the late 1990s.
That's where Athearn initially experienced issues with her body. As she prepared to train for a marathon, she noticed something bizarre. Her legs and right hand felt numb. She shook it off and tried to run the next few days but experienced a similar feeling.
She met with a neurologist, who encouraged her to return if the feeling didn't go away. Six months later, Athearn's legs grew increasingly fatigued on the 17th mile of the race. She plopped to the ground and later discovered her heart rate was in the 170s.
"It was really scary and frustrating at the same time because I had trained for the marathon," she said. "I went back to the neurologist, had more symptoms and they diagnosed me."
To her dismay, 2008 brought another setback. She found herself lying on the MRI table, balling her eyes out in pain. It was her lower back. She had herniated discs.
"The doctor told her she would be lucky to walk without any pain," said Chris Athearn, her husband and an Air Force colonel.
Like multiple sclerosis, the herniated discs sidelined her for some time, but Athearn wouldn't let that stop her, either.
"The mental aspect of wanting to overcome and not let her beat her is the amazing trait that she has demonstrated," Chris said. "She's an overcomer."
The only thing that has changed is her triathlon approach. Before the discs, Cheryl Athearn set specific time marks for herself -- times she drove herself to hit. Now, they've drastically changed. She hopes to run the full course and hopes no one passes her on the bicycle.
"I have to take it in stride," she said. "At least I'm able to put one foot further than the other. I'm not trying to win, or reach a certain time or number, I'm just enjoying the moment."
She's just happy and feels fortunate enough to still participate.
"Her motto is she competes because she can," Chris said.
Nothing will stop her as long as she can walk.
"I know it's there, but it doesn't affect me physically on a day-to-day basis," she said. "Someday I may not be able to run or walk upstairs anymore, but I'll be active until that day comes."
|Miami||12/22/13 12:00 PM|
|New Orleans||12/22/13 12:00 PM|
|Dallas||12/22/13 12:00 PM|
|Tampa Bay||12/22/13 12:00 PM|
|Cleveland||12/22/13 12:00 PM|
|Indianapolis||12/22/13 12:00 PM|
|Minnesota||12/22/13 12:00 PM|
|Denver||12/22/13 12:00 PM|
|Tennessee||12/22/13 12:00 PM|
|Arizona||12/22/13 3:05 PM|
|NY Giants||12/22/13 3:05 PM|
|Oakland||12/22/13 3:25 PM|
|Pittsburgh||12/22/13 3:25 PM|
|New England||12/22/13 3:25 PM|
|Chicago||12/22/13 7:30 PM|
|Atlanta||12/23/13 7:40 PM|
|William & Mary||94|
|Utah Valley U||103|
|UC Santa Barbara||71||FINAL|
|Washington St||12/21/13 1:00 PM|
|(21) Fresno State||12/21/13 2:30 PM|
|Buffalo||12/21/13 4:30 PM|
|San Diego St|
|Tulane||12/21/13 8:00 PM|
|East Carolina||12/23/13 1:00 PM|
|Boise State||12/24/13 7:00 PM|
|Pittsburgh||12/26/13 5:00 PM|
|Utah State||12/26/13 8:30 PM|
|(24) Northern Ill|
|Marshall||12/27/13 1:30 PM|
|Syracuse||12/27/13 5:00 PM|
|BYU||12/27/13 8:30 PM|
|(10) South Carolina||69|
|VA of Lynchburg||40||FINAL|
|Utah Valley U||59|
|Sam Houston St||46||FINAL|
|Fla Gulf Coast||75|
|Long Beach St||73|
|(24) Florida State||73||FINAL|
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