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West Virginia athlete overcomes disease with the help of baton twirling

West Virginia athlete overcomes disease with the help of baton twirling

If not for baton twirling, Meagan Sheehan (Martinsburg, W.V.) might very well be in a wheelchair.

At 12 years old, Meagan spent several months with limited strength. She contracted the Epstein Barr virus, which become mono in most adolescents, and battled a laundry list of symptoms including extreme fatigue, a high heart rate (tachycardia) and fluctuations in blood pressure.

Doctors told her she would likely take up to a year to regain her old physical strength and believed the tachycardia and other issues were a result of her body getting back into shape. She was determined to compete with her twirling team and perform in solos over the summer so, with a seemingly unlimited supply of Gatorade and her worried mother in tow, she kept twirling.

As she prepared for a local competition in September, Meagan collapsed. Unable to breath and enduring significant pain in her chest, Meagan returned to the doctors to discover she suffers from Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS), a condition that causes an abnormally large increase in heart rate.

Still, Meagan did not allow her condition to get in her way.

"Meagan is driven from her inner personal core to not let Dysautonomia/POTS rule her life,” said Meagan’s dad Don. “While it is nearly impossible to overcome failures in the autonomic nervous system, that is the battle she wages every day. By pushing to do competitive baton twirling, she fights back against Dysautonomia and keeps it from ruling her life.”

Meagan (W.V.) has enjoyed dancing and baton twirling for much of her life. She became a member of the Washington County Show Kids at the age of four and spent the next eight years of her life developing her passion for twirling with the help of coach Brenda Cauffman.

Her desire to lead a “normal” life despite her condition drives Meagan to strive for the same high goals and standards she set long before she was diagnosed with POTS. Though baton twirling is often the cause of many of Meagan’s POTS symptoms, she refuses to allow her condition to impede her dreams.

“I try not to focus on my adversities because it really is just a big downer,” Meagan said. “I am naturally a very driven person but after I got POTS that tenacity was kicked into overdrive. So I push even harder and I am very happy with myself for not quitting, pushing through and achieving what I achieve.”

Her mom Misty added: “With everything she deals with on a daily basis, her being able to compete at all is amazing and inspiring. Watching her compete [at AAU Junior Olympic Games] brought tears to my eyes. Then, having her win Gold in her Freestyle event – I can't even put into words how it felt.”

Meagan once feared doctors would no longer allow her to continue to twirl. Now three years late, she has surpassed anything anyone thought she would be able to achieve considering the limits her body puts on her. She pushes her body to its absolute limits, as POTS makes it impossible to maintain a schedule equivalent to the average athletic teenager.

“POTS is like riding a roller coaster with no restraints while blind folded,” Meagan said. “It takes unexpected twists and turns while you are holding on for dear life trying not to fly off into the void of mental and physical depression. AAU has given me the opportunity to compete at a national level in a healthy competitive atmosphere where everyone is helpful and encouraging.”

Meagan has a strong desire to be a motivation speaker for kids with POTS and wants to be a positive influence to show the possibilities when you do not give up on your passions. She is currently a youth ambassador for the Dysautonomia Youth Network of America (DYNA) and Meagan embodies the organization’s goal to “share and promote an attitude of perseverance, resilience and determination in spite of medical obstacles and hardships.”

She recently began her own thread on the organization’s private forum to provide detailed descriptions to share with the community what she does to keep going, moving and succeeding with baton twirling in hope that it will encourage others.

“We are proud of Meagan's tenacity, determination, and her sweet, caring, positive disposition,” Misty said. “But we are mostly proud of her ability to take this life-altering – and sometimes debilitating – condition and turn it into a positive.”

Competing in AAU events around the country allows Meagan to pursue her dreams. It has given her an outlet to compete without feeling limited by her condition but, along with the competition, doctors believe twirling has been her saving grace. Her extreme blood pooling in her calves would likely land inactive patients in wheelchairs.

But not Meagan.

Her inclination to fight through every obstacle has kept her on her feet to take control of her own life and, in the process, inspire a community of children just like her every day.

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