The spark of life happens
in Minneapolis, October 4 - 6, 2013
While their stories, running abilities and goals may vary, each Global Hero brings inspiration to the starting line. By sharing these stories, others can cheer the accomplishment, or take action in their own lives.
Thanks to advances in medical technology, these extraordinary runners still compete — not necessarily against the field — but within themselves.
Global Heroes is a cooperative effort between the Twin Cities in Motion and Medtronic.
Arantes has an insulin pump to manage diabetes.
Daniela Arantes knew a lot about diabetes long before she was diagnosed in October of 2011. Her identical twin sister, Gabriela, was diagnosed 10 years earlier with Type 1 diabetes, shortly after their father died. The sisters began running together as a way to deal with their grief, and Daniela helped Gabriela learn to monitor her glucose levels during races.
Daniela now refers to those years as her “internship,” helping her prepare for her diabetes management. She was able to put all she had learned through Gabriela’s experience into practice, including using an insulin pump to manage her glucose levels.
Daniela completed a marathon within months of receiving her pump. She and her sister, who celebrate their 30th birthday the week of the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon, plan to mark the milestone by running together.
The two recently organized an event offering support to other runners with diabetes. Daniela wants other diabetics to know “We can do absolutely everything. We just have to watch our glucose levels and take the necessary measures to stay healthy.”
Arantes has an insulin pump to manage diabetes.
Gabriela Arantes always was involved in sports growing up; but it wasn’t until her father’s death 10 years ago that she turned to running as a way to fill the emptiness she felt after his loss. Even after she was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes just three months later, she continued to run, stopping to measure her blood glucose along the way. After four years of running what she calls “broken races” in order to manage her blood glucose levels, Gabriela received an insulin pump.
Gabriela says that the pump has dramatically changed her life. She now can adjust her dose while she is running with just the push of a button. She says it has given her a new freedom. It was Gabriela’s experience and encouragement that helped convince her identical twin sister, Daniela, to get an insulin pump when she too was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes last October.
The twins, who already shared an intimate bond, are now closer than ever. The two co-own a physical training company and run every race together. They plan to celebrate their 30th birthday this year by running the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon.
Gabriela and her sister also provide support for others with Type 1 diabetes. Gabriela helped organize blood sugar monitoring stations along the route of a marathon in her hometown to help encourage others with diabetes to not only run the race, but to finish.
Her advice to others living with diabetes is “Do not limit yourself to anything!”
Baransy has a heart valve replacement to facilitate blood flow.
Terry Baransy isn’t one to do things halfway. Once a heavy smoker, he quit cold turkey, which he said caused him to put on weight. He then started an exercise class and took up running. Now more than two decades and 158 marathons later, Terry acknowledges that running is one of his greatest life-long passions.
That’s why in 2008, when he learned he had severe aortic stenosis and needed to undergo heart surgery, he was devastated and frightened he might never be able to run again. But after some reassurance from his doctors, Terry began cardio rehab and – true to his “never do things halfway” approach – he completed a marathon just five months later. Now in his 70s, Terry takes pride in outpacing most others his age. He says running empowers him with a sense of freedom and vitality. With no signs of slowing down, Terry plans to run at least eight marathons this year. He says each marathon is a test of will that allows him to push beyond what he thought possible.
While not everyone can run a marathon, Terry encourages others with heart conditions not to limit themselves out of fear or apprehension. He says, “We are all capable of far more than others might believe possible or appropriate.”
Gilabert Escorsa has an intrathecal baclofen drug pump to help treat spasticity caused by a spinal cord injury.
Although she suffered a spinal cord injury from a car accident when she was 19, Anna Gilabert Escorsa has not let her injury keep her from an active lifestyle. She competed in wheelchair sports in college and continued competing with a hand bike after getting married. But she says her mobility began to decline due to increased spasticity in her muscles. She had to work harder and harder, finding the races less pleasurable and increasingly uncomfortable.
Twelve years ago she had an intrathecal baclofen drug pump implanted. The device allows her body to receive a continual dose of the medicine baclofen to help reduce spasticity, a condition where muscles become tight and stiff, making movement difficult. Anna says the therapy has significantly improved her mobility and her quality of life, allowing her to return to the sport she loves. Since receiving her drug pump, she has completed five marathons and is training for more.
Anna works as a psychologist at the Neurorehabilitation Hospital Institut Guttmann in Barcelona helping other patients who have neurological disabilities. She encourages anyone with servere spasticity to consider this option as a way to improve their mobility and quality of life.
Filler has an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) to treat sudden cardiac arrest.
Susan Filler began running to keep in shape and quickly became addicted to it. She and a friend ran every race they could find just for fun, which eventually led to more serious running and races. But that all changed the day after Christmas 2007 when Susan survived sudden cardiac arrest while out for a run. Although able, the doctors told her she would probably never want to run again. It was at that moment that Susan became determined that she would.
After having her ICD implanted, an MRI revealed Susan had ARVD, a rare genetic conduction disorder. She says doctors prescribed her beta-blockers that slowed her down and made her feel like she was sinking in mud when she ran. Susan grew anxious and felt that she could not get out of bed. She returned to her doctor, who switched her treatments.
Determined and confident with her ICD as ‘back up’ and her Labrador Retrievers as companions, Susan gave running another shot. She says she learned a lot about her body and her limits as she returned to running, but has exceeded even her wildest dreams, recently completing in the Boise Ironman and preparing for the Canada Ironman this August.
Susan says gifts come in many different packages. She says these events remodeled and enriched her life in ways she never imagined. It may have also saved the life of her father and niece because both of them were diagnosed with the same condition. She says you can choose to be sick or choose to live well. She chose the latter.
Foulds has deep brain stimulation to help manage symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.
Rhonda Foulds was a young mother of three, running regularly when a tremor in her finger led to a Parkinson’s disease diagnosis in 1999. Still in her 30s, she stopped running and working out, and was eventually forced to rely on a wheelchair to get around. With deep brain stimulation, she says her life changed almost immediately, allowing her to move more freely and even walk again.
One day in 2009, while out for a walk with her son who was home on leave from the Marines, he asked her when she last ran. He encouraged her to try running from one light pole to the next, increasing the distance each time she completed a challenge. It was then and there she says she was hooked again. Since that day in 2009, she has run two marathons, 16 half-marathons and numerous 5ks, 10ks, and 15ks.
Rhonda says running gives her an incredible endorphin rush, which in turn helps her feel happier and more energized in all areas of her life.
Her advice to others battling the disease is to “change your thinking. Keep a positive attitude and take care of yourself mentally and physically.” She says there are cures right around the corner every day that could affect the outcome of Parkinson’s disease, and encourages people to learn everything they can about their diseases and don’t discount any ideas that may help them.
Grayson has an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) to treat sudden cardiac arrest.
21-year-old Patrick Grayson says he wasn’t a very gifted athlete as a kid. When he was 11, he was diagnosed with Long QT Syndrome, a heart rhythm disorder that can cause fast, chaotic heartbeats, seizures or even sudden death. By the time he was 12, he already had undergone surgery to receive an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) to monitor and treat sudden cardiac arrest.
Patrick says once he had his ICD, he became more and more determined to prove himself in athletics. He played tennis in high school, and currently is a member of his collegiate rowing team. Patrick became interested in running three years ago after a couple of his teammates ran in a race. He too began training and completed his first marathon in February. Patrick says his ICD allows him to go about his daily life and work toward his goals without worrying about medical issues; a freedom he never knew as a kid.
Patrick’s advice to others is “Don’t let worries about your condition prevent you from putting all of yourself into what you do.” He says with enough determination anyone can accomplish great things, regardless of skill level or medical condition.”
Harstad has an insulin pump to manage diabetes.
A self-described rebel in his early teens, Torbjørn Harstad did not take life, or his diabetes, seriously. His health was at risk; so at age 16, he started exercising and found that he actually enjoyed being physically active and working toward goals. He says getting an insulin pump to help manage his blood glucose levels made those goals seem more achievable. He eventually turned to running, a sport in which the goals seemed limitless and one he could participate anywhere, anytime.
Torbjørn says if it wasn’t for his insulin pump he would not have been able to find such satisfaction and success in running. He has since run three marathons and plans to take part in a 540K road cycling race, a 95K off-road cycling race, and a 23K run this year. Torbjørn says his goal for 2013 is to be the first diabetic to complete the Norseman, an extreme triathlon in Norway.
He encourages others with diabetes to find something you like, start easy, see how it goes and work your way toward bigger goals.
Purdon has a pacemaker to treat sick sinus syndrome.
Lance Purdon is not one to say “poor me” and certainly not one to let a pacemaker keep him from getting what he wants. Diagnosed with “sick sinus syndrome” and implanted with a pacemaker in 2003, Lance began running to fuel his competitive nature. Four years later, running became a way to spend time with his then girlfriend, and now wife, an avid triathlete. In fact, their first date was an 8K run together.
Now a member of the Royal Australian Air Force and several running and triathlon clubs, Lance has completed five marathons, two Ironman triathlons and a number of other distance races. He says you can choose to be sedentary or you can enjoy all life has to offer. He says he is inspired by those less fortunate, and says when he runs he does it for those who can’t.
Lance wants others with pacemakers to know that life is not over. While it limited him from some of the things he enjoyed, it helped him discover others, like running, volunteering and motivational speaking: things that not only have changed his life, but inspired others.
Soule has a pacemaker to treat heart arrhythmia.
Don Soule knows what it is like to overcome adversity. Once a serious marathon runner, he stopped running for 20 years and gained more than 100 pounds. In 2004-05 he lost all the weight, underwent back surgery and returned to running, completing the Twin Cities Marathon in 2006.
Little did he know his challenges were just beginning. In 2008, despite completing five marathons and ten half-marathons, Don found himself growing increasingly tired. After months of several near fainting spells, he says he was diagnosed with sick sinus syndrome, Bradycardia and Chronotropic Incompetence – all conditions that can cause life-threatening heart arrythmias. In 2009, Don underwent surgery to implant a pacemaker to help monitor and control his heartbeat.
Don was able to train for, and run, three marathons in 2009, as well as many shorter distance races. To date he has completed 16 marathons with his pacemaker, improving his times each year.
Don says he is so thankful to be alive and to be able to continue running. He shares his gratitude by volunteering during the races in which he is not participating and serving as a board member of Charities Challenge, an organization aimed at improving health and reducing health risks at the community level. Don also is a member of Cardiac Athletes, an international online support group for people with cardiac histories who “achieve sporting success.”
Don’s advice to other people with pacemakers? “Having a pacemaker shouldn't hold you back. It enables you to live a fuller life and pursue your dreams.”
Staples has a pacemaker to treat heart arrhythmia.
As a child, Howard Staples says he wasn’t big enough to play football or skilled enough for basketball or baseball, but quickly found his niche in running. He was co-captain of the cross country team in high school and ran the two-mile in track. A Healthy Living Program at his work helped him rediscover his passion for running as an adult. He began doing 16-mile training runs and half-marathons with co-workers, but in 2009 after years of unexplained fainting spells he learned he had cardiac arrhythmia and needed a pacemaker.
Howard was determined that he was not going to let his heart condition keep him on the sidelines. Soon after having his pacemaker implanted, he ran a five-mile race. That gave him all the confidence he needed. He has now run six half-marathons, completed the Boston Marathon twice and is training for a 100-mile bike event this fall.
Howard’s advice to others living with heart conditions is “Don’t give up! Life is what you make it. Do not impose limits on yourself. We are all capable of more than we think we are.”
Beal has a pacemaker to treat arrhythmia caused by heart block.
Haley Beal has been an avid runner since joining the cross country and track teams in seventh grade. But during her sophomore year of high school she noticed she was working harder, but her times were getting slower and slower. Doctors diagnosed her with a complete heart block and in 2010, implanted a pacemaker to save her life. Haley says the six weeks of recovery without running seemed like an eternity.
When she returned to running, Haley says she was surprised to see how “effortless” it was again. She says the pacemaker improved her quality of life, allowing her to do things she previously didn’t have the energy or strength to do. She is now training for a 5K, a half-marathon and a sprint duathalon. Her experience also helped her realize her passion in life: nursing. She has changed her college major and is pursuing nursing as a means of helping others overcome physical challenges like her own.
Haley says running is a great way to release stress and a wonderful way to get away and think through problems. After being diagnosed with a heart condition at such a young age, she has learned not to take anything for granted. She encourages everyone to live life to the fullest.
Clark has an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) to treat sudden cardiac arrest.
Erin Clark took up running just over a year ago as a way to embrace healing and life. It was twenty years ago, just after graduating from college and becoming engaged to her husband, when she nearly died from sudden cardiac arrest (SCA). She learned she had been born with Long QT Syndrome, a heart condition that put her at risk for SCA. She was put on beta blocker therapy, which she says sapped her energy and did nothing to reduce her fear of another episode, making her new life as a wife, mother and teacher nearly impossible to manage.
That all changed when she had an ICD implanted to monitor for and prevent SCA. As she was weaned off of her beta blockers, her energy and drive returned. Her doctors, family and some other very special friends helped her and inspired her to overcome her fear of returning to an active life. She began running, first 5K races, then 10Ks, then setting her sights on the Medtronic TC 10 Mile as part of the 2012 Global Heroes team.
Erin, whose son also was born with Long QT syndrome, now works with her local school district to educate and advocate for students with medical needs. She also is involved in the Sudden Arrhythmia Death Syndromes (SADS) Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to helping to prevent sudden and unexpected cardiac death in children and in young adults. Her goal is to inspire others to discover their own paths to overcoming life’s obstacles. Her advice to others? Live life with the volume turned up full blast!
Graham has a spinal and bone fusion device to aid recovery from a broken neck.
As a professional lifeguard, Kobi Graham runs to stay fit and be prepared to respond in case of an emergency. But in 2010, he was the one who needed rescuing after breaking his neck in a surfing accident. In danger of becoming a quadraplegic, Kobi underwent surgery in which doctors inserted a device to help fuse his c6 and c7 vertebrae together. He has since made a full recovery.
Kobi now serves as an ambassador for the Spinal Cord Injury Network. Celebrating his second chance at life, Kobi returned to running and any other activities his body allows. He doesn’t consider himself a competitive runner. He philosophy is “slow and steady wins the race.” Kobi says after his accident he is simply grateful to be running at all.
His advice to others with similar injuries is “Stay positive, keep active and remember there is always someone out there who may be struggling more than you are.”
Harel has an insulin pump to manage diabetes.
Etzion Harel always loved participating in sports, including running. But at age 21, a diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes put him on the sidelines. Managing his blood glucose levels seemed overwhelming and he was too afraid to risk hypoglycemia with physical activity. Then in 2007, doctors told Etzion about an insulin pump with continuous glucose monitoring. He jumped at the opportunity and says his life was changed forever.
Now at age 36, Etzion has returned to the active life he loves. He says he no longer lives in fear about his blood sugar levels and is able to focus on the things he loves. He plays sports, travels the world and has completed five half-marathons so far.
His advice to other people with diabetes is not to let their diabetes define them. He says, “I have diabetes, but I am not a diabetes patient.”
Hackett has a deep brain stimulator to help manage symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.
61-year-old Patricia Hackett, a retired teacher, loves running because it gives her a chance to “be quiet and think,” but that peace gave way to pain and frustration after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Her balance gradually degenerated. It eventually became so bad she was forced to push a three-wheeler just to stay steady.
Four years ago, Patricia had surgery to implant a deep brain stimulator to help treat some of the symptoms of her Parkinson’s disease. With deep brain stimulation (DBS), she is now able to run unassisted. She trains daily with friends, and is currently preparing for a 10K and 15K. And she hasn’t stopped there. Since her surgery, Patricia has been very active. She says her therapy has given her a second chance at all the things she enjoys in life. She appreciates the support of her family, two wonderful running mates and her Yorkie named Missy.
Patricia speaks to groups and individuals living with Parkinson’s disease to educate them about the advantages of deep brain stimulators. She encourages them to consider it as an option for some of the most troubling symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.
Holdway has a pacemaker to treat sinus node dysfunction.
After moving to Boston in the 1970s, Bob Holdway says he quickly became intrigued by the challenges and success stories of the Boston Marathon. He says watching Bill Rodgers run by in 1977, cemented his interest in the sport. Bob has since run “Boston” five times along with numerous other marathons and races. For Bob, running provided a competitive outlet and balance to his busy legal career, and was a great way to learn about new cities when he traveled.
But things changed in January 2000 when Bob started suffering severe shortness of breath while running. Doctors diagnosed him with sinus node dysfunction, and implanted a pacemaker that June. His cardiologist assured him it would be safe to return to running. Bob says it took a little trial and error with the settings on his pacemaker, but he soon was back on track with the sport that had become such a vital part of his lifestyle.
Bob says he has gone from competitive running to what he calls “Zen running,” being in the moment and enjoying the feeling and the ability to run. He also finds joy in helping others train for races. He provides inspiration and support to co-workers, friends and family who have received pacemakers. Bob also serves on the Board of Trustees for the Judge Baker Children's Center, an organization in Boston devoted to research and treatment for children facing significant mental health challenges.
Bob says he is grateful for the opportunity to maintain an active professional and personal lifestyle and to be there for his wife and two daughters. His advice to others with pacemakers is “Live your normal life. I may have a pacemaker, but I don’t define myself as a pacemaker patient.”
Johnson had a heart valve repair implanted to treat mitral valve disease.
Patrick Johnson began running during a summer college internship in 1974 with his program mentor, who was an avid runner. During their first run together, Patrick couldn’t keep up and vomited before he could finish. But by the end of the summer he competed in his first 10K race and became hooked on running. Since then, Patrick has run between 300-400 races; but one sticks out as a clear favorite: a 30K relay race in 1988 where he was partnered with a woman he’d never met, but who later became his wife. The pair, both nurses, continue to run together to this day.
Patrick, a vegetarian and civilian Public Health Air Force Reserve nurse, always had been the picture of health. It wasn’t until 2007 during a regular checkup, that he was diagnosed with mitral valve prolapse. Two years later it worsened and he had surgery to repair the valve. Patrick was very fit, yet had a serious heart condition he was unaware of. His advice to others is, "even though you may be healthy, get regular checkups.”
Determined not to let his condition stop him, he ran a 5K just seven weeks after surgery. This year, he will be promoted to Colonel in the Air Force Reserve and continues to work as a Public Health Department Administrator. Patrick says his times may be a little slower now, but thanks to the surgery he and his wife can look forward to a healthy and active future together.
Musilek has an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) to treat sudden cardiac arrest.
Running has always been a family activity for Caroline Musilek. Her family would participate in various runs together when she was growing up. But amazingly, it wasn’t until after suffering sudden cardiac arrest during a race that she became a serious runner.
After receiving her ICD in 2009, Caroline says she was afraid she’d never run again. But soon she was overcome by a feeling that she had to do it “now more than ever.” She felt that she owed it to everyone who is not able to run anymore; and that she was given a gift that she had to use. With the support of her friends, family and boyfriend she returned to running. With three half-marathons and many other races under her belt, she’s ready to share her story – and her success – with others as a Global Hero.
Caroline said prior to receiving her ICD, she just ran; now she runs with a purpose. She runs to celebrate and keep her health, to think through ideas and to enjoy nature’s gifts.
Her advice to others: “Appreciate your second chance in life and celebrate it as often as you can. Learn to accept your device as a part of you who are. It’s not there to scare you, but to protect you and enable you to live without fear.”
Neal has an insulin pump and continuous glucose monitor to manage diabetes.
Running started as an outlet for Tommy Neal, who said he quite often found himself in trouble at school. It was soon clear, however, that running was his calling. He was a six-time state distance champion and held two state records by the time he graduated from high school. In June 2011, he ran a 1:05:00 half-marathon, qualifying him for the Olympic marathon trials. Shortly after, he says “the wheels came off.” He had months of frustratingly bad workouts and slower times before being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in December 2011. His time was not what he had hoped for in the January marathon trials.
After receiving his insulin pump, Tommy not only enjoyed freedom from painful injections, but he said he was able to balance his blood sugar more effectively as well. He quickly realized running was an important element in managing his diabetes. He is determined not to let diabetes keep him from his dreams.
He now works with, and is sponsored by, Team Type 1 which helps promote diabetes health, awareness, and research. He also trains with the American Distance Project, a non-profit organization whose primary goal is the development of American distance runners to be internationally competitive. In addition, he is planning to run a 10K, the New York City Marathon and hopefully, the USATF 20K Championships yet this year.
He encourages anyone with Type 1 diabetes to continue to pursue their dreams and find support and advice from others with the same diagnosis.
Nevins has an insulin pump to manage diabetes.
Dave Nevins feels fortunate to have lived with diabetes long enough to see – and experience – how advances in medical technology have saved lives, improved health, and “given those of us with diabetes hope for the future.” Dave, who fell in love with distance running in high school, never let his diabetes get in the way of running or a good adventure. For decades, he managed his condition with slow acting insulin and multiple injections a day. Then in 2000, Dave says his life became significantly less complicated when he received his first insulin pump.
Dave says the pump gives him more flexibility, and allows him to do the things he loves with less interruption. That is a good thing, because he rarely slows down. Dave has run many half-marathons, a 35-mile race and several other distance races since receiving his pump. He also helped organize a group called No Limits, a diabetes adventure group, that has participated in everything from kayaking to bungee jumping and skydiving.
Dave, who will turn 50 this year, says diabetes has given him more motivation to achieve his goals. He believes he is more adventurous with diabetes than he would be without it.
His advice: “Live the life that you want to live and dream big. Do not let diabetes control your life.”
Parent has an insulin pump to manage diabetes.
For the first six years after being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, Céline Parent took multiple injections each day just to stay alive. She says it did the job, but limited her daily life. In 2008, after watching a 5K from the finish line she decided she wanted to give running a try. She says she bought shoes, joined a running clinic, and studied how to manage diabetes while running. She says the learning curve was pretty steep, and at first she could only run short distances and really struggled to manage her blood sugar. A year later she began using an insulin pump, and her running took off.
Since that time she has run seven half-marathons, a 30K, several duathlons and a triathlon. Céline says the pump has had a tremendous impact on her life and her ability to manage her diabetes.
Céline says through running, she has accomplished things she never thought possible; and that, in fact, her diabetes is what motivates her to continue. She shares that motivation with others through the Niagara Diabetes Centre, where she mentors others who have been diagnosed or are struggling with Type 1 diabetes. She also began blogging about her life with diabetes and her running journey, which already has been visited by nearly 40,000 people seeking information and support.
Her advice to others is to “Use diabetes as a motivator not an excuse and you’ll be amazed where it can take you.”
Shaw has a pacemaker and an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD).
Linda Shaw knew nothing about running when she and her sister participated in a fun-run back in 1980, but that was all it took. Instantly, she was hooked and made it part of her lifestyle . Now at age 58, Linda participates in a running event nearly every weekend.
Linda’s desire to live and enjoy life inspired her to continue running after having both a pacemaker and ICD implanted in 2008. She says running lets her know she is alive, giving her both physical and emotional strength. She shares that enthusiasm with everyone around her, dressing in a themed-costume for nearly every race she runs.
Linda says a life-saving shock she received from her defibrillator at the three-mile mark of a 5K in 2010, reinforced just how much technology has enhanced her life. As a registered nurse, she would like to use both her personal and professional experiences to educate others about heart-related issues. She also would like to create a non-profit organization focused on providing AEDs to all schools.
She encourages others with heart conditions to ask questions and learn all they can about their condition. She says, “Find a doctor whose philosophies align with yours. Associate with positive people. Trust and believe in yourself, and always set goals.”
Taylor has an intrathecal baclofen drug pump to treat muscle spasticity due to cerebral palsy.
15-year-old Matthew Taylor is no stranger to challenges. He was born with cerebral palsy – and a dream of being an athlete – both of which inspired him to work hard and keep moving, despite his body’s resistance. By the time he was 12, his muscles had become so tight that even walking was difficult. In 2010, Matthew had surgery to implant a drug pump that automatically delivers medicine to relieve his spasms. In less than three months, not only had Matthew’s speech, mobility and overall flexibility improved; he also ran his first 5K!
Matthew hasn’t stopped since. He runs on his school’s cross-country team, participates in running camps, and has become an advocate for the local Wolfson Children’s Hospital. Every year he helps organize (and runs in) the hospital’s Ultra-Marathon fundraiser. Last year, when he noticed one of the marathoners was having trouble finishing the race, he decided to run alongside him to show him that they could do it together. With Matthew’s support, the other runner finished the race.
Matthew’s advice is to never give up. “You can achieve your dreams with work.” He says there is nothing that he cannot do if he sets his mind to it, and he tries to prove that daily.
Wilhelm has a pacemaker to treat heart disease.
Ellie Wilhelm can’t remember life without a heart condition. She underwent open-heart surgery to treat a congenital heart defect before even starting preschool. She went on to be an active child, participating in multiple sports. It wasn’t until sixth grade when she started experiencing fainting spells, that doctors realized scar tissue from her surgery was interfering with the signal for her heart to beat properly, particularly during exercise.
Ellie received a pacemaker when she was 16. She was determined to stay involved, but scared to fully participate, worried something may go wrong again. Her anxiety about exercising lingered throughout college, until three years ago when she realized that the only thing holding her back from living a full life was her own fear. Determined to conquer it, she began running as a way to test her limits and improve her cardiovascular health. Once she was able to complete a 5K without stopping, she registered for longer distance races and within her first year finished a half-marathon and recently completed her first full marathon.
Ellie has served as a SoleMate for Girls on the Run St. Louis, an organization that provides self-esteem, healthy living and team building programs for young girls. She also is a member of the Ironheart Racing Team, a group that runs, bikes and swims while raising awareness and money surrounding congenital heart defects. Ellie wants other young people living with congenital heart defects to know it may take a while to adjust after a diagnosis or surgery, but it will get easier. She says, “Never give up. Aim High. Keep a positive attitude. Surround yourself with supportive people, and don’t quit. You can do it!”