Meghan has found competitive swimming to be her outlet. Her refuge. Her comfort. Her hope for being normal - as she won't share her daily struggles with her friends. We spent the entire week of Olympic Trials in Omaha watching her sister swim among the many competing for a spot in Rio. It was an exciting week of new faces and old. Katie Ledecky, Michael Phelps, Missy Franklin, Simone Manuel - all expected Olympians. We were fortunate to take it all in, and we easily got caught up in the excitement of prelims and finals and the celebrations that followed during the award ceremonies. A whole week that flew by in the blink of an eye. We have loved competitive swimming and the journey it has taken us on for the past 12 years.
But one of our favorite stories that came from Trials and from the Olympics in Rio, revolves around Kathleen Baker. She is 19 years old and from North Carolina. She won an unexpected silver in the 100 meter backstroke in Rio and gold in the 400 medley relay, where she swam the backstroke. Kathleen Baker has Crohn's Disease. An autoimmune disorder that causes inflammation and fatigue - the same sort of fatigue Meghan feels from her autoimmune POTS disorder. The same sort of fatigue that is associated with and often misunderstood when one has a chronic illness.
Her story has some similarities to Meghan's. Kathleen was 14 when it all started. Meghan was 12. They both had incredible fatigue and unexplained symptoms. And bubbly, out-going personalities that faltered while searching for answers. Both wanted to quit swimming when it became too hard. Read here about Kathleen's early struggles. For us and for Meghan, it is inspirational. And ordinary. And something Meghan sees as doable.
But my favorite take on the story is told by a reporter whose daughter has Crohn's disease. Someone who gets it. REALLY gets it. Others can sympathize - but few can empathize. Someone who knows the significance of her medal and has witnessed first hand what it's like to watch someone struggle with an invisible illness. POTS syndrome and Crohn's have some overlapping symptoms - painful stomach issues, gastric issues, and fatigue being the biggest shared ones. The article found here, talks about how Kathleen had to make some tough choices. She has limited energy reserves and had to focus on just one event. She could have been a multi-talented Olympian. But fatigue made her choose. It made her miss practice when her body needed more recovery time and to fight with all she had for the spot she did earn in the backstroke.
For now, Meghan's dream includes swimming for a division 1 college like her older sister. It's not out of the question. She has the drive and the desire and the hard work ethic that it takes. A lot can happen in 2 more years. A lot has already happened since her first dose of IVIG. She told me she's going to get an Olympic Trial cut like Abby and swim for UW-Wisconsin. Or maybe Purdue (who already has a swimmer diagnosed with POTS). Who knows what the future will hold - but goals and dreams keep us motivated to overcome some of the worst scenarios imaginable.