GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — For Lee Mshar, the ability to run is more than a gift; it’s a godsend.
She and her family have endured more than most.
“I don’t know how we got through it, I’m not going to lie. It was overwhelming,” she said.
Mshar, 41, of Dorr is one of 10 Road Warriors for this year’s Fifth Third River Bank Run. She’s committed to training for the race — even braving the frigid cold and snow-covered roads and sidewalks to keep up with her regiment.
“I strongly believe that you cannot waste the gifts, the skills that you have been given in life; that God gives you an ability to do some things and it’s your responsibility to put it to use,” Mshar said.
Her story starts 12 years ago, when Mshar gave birth to her oldest son Alex.
“I had been a paramedic and I was watching this nurse and I could see her get that ‘Oh, crap’ feeling. I saw something change in her demeanor and she was keeping cool, but I knew that something was desperately wrong,” she said.
The newborn Alex had to be revived. He was then diagnosed with Down syndrome.
“For us, we had sort of a perspective because we almost didn’t have a baby. So the fact that we had a child born live gave us immediate perspective that disability might not be such a big deal,” Mshar said.
Mshar soon realized she had a gift for raising a child with special needs. When Alex was 3, she felt called to care for another one. The Mshars decided to adopt another child with Down syndrome. Only 10 days after they filed the paperwork, they were matched with Ben.
Ben will turn 9 years old in February. He’s happy and healthy.
That wasn’t always the case. He was often ill as a small child. And at age 3, he was diagnosed with leukemia. He underwent chemotherapy for three and a half years.
While Ben was still receiving treatment, Mshar’s husband had to undergo back surgery. While he was recovering, Mshar was diagnosed with Guillian-Barre syndrome — an autoimmune disorder that causes muscle weakness.
“I lost sensation in my hands and up my arms, but the profound weakness was the thing that lasted the longest and was the most weakening,” Mshar said. “A weakness that you can’t really understand being an able-bodied person. I felt like I was 90 years old.”
And Ben still had cancer. His first year of chemotherapy was brutal. He had headaches and was sick all the time. He came down with pneumonia and bronchitis.
“We had these people coming around us to say, ‘You can make it through this and there’s a light at the end the end of the tunnel,'” Mshar recalled. “And that light at the end of the tunnel was as valuable as anything else to us to get through that really difficult year.”
With prayer and perseverance, the Mshars pushed through. They also got help from Make-A-Wish Michigan, which promised the family a trip to Disney World.
Another thing that helped Lee Mshar get through the difficult year was running. No matter how sick or weak the Guillain-Barre made her, she made a point to try to run.
“The running was therapeutic for me. Dealing with the cancer was overwhelming,” she said. “I knew that if I could get back to running, that would be my way of handling that stress that was coming. I would try and I would fail and I would try and fail and try, and this went on for two years. Finally, this past spring of 2014, I went out for a run and did it.”
Inspired by her progress, Mshar decided she wanted to train for the Fifth Third River Bank Run. She signed up for the Road Warrior program is now running for an even greater purpose.
“I believe that when you’re blessed, that you’re blessed with a responsibility to be a blessing,” she said.
You can help Mshar make some wishes come true by joining her Make-A-Wish team and running the race or making a pledge.
Also running for Make-A-Wish as a Road Warrior is 24 Hour News 8 Sports Director Jack Doles.
The 10th annual Fifth Third River Bank Run is scheduled for May 9. Online registration is still open.