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Melonie Jorgensen, 70, of Medford, trains Friday near her home in Medford for the April 14 Pear Blossom 5K run. - Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune

Grateful to be running

Every time Medford resident Melonie Jorgensen tackles another 5K race, she says she’s overwhelmed with gratitude for the gift of good health.

There was a time when she was overcome with pain and would get fatigued if she tried to walk just five consecutive minutes.

Jorgensen was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and a handful of other conditions three decades ago, with a prognosis that she would almost certainly be wheelchair-bound at some point.

A full-time teacher raising two sons and managing a 23-acre farm where she grew her family’s food, she led an active lifestyle and made healthful diet choices, she thought.

“I was pretty vibrant and active. I worked full-time ... and spent summers with a large, full-on garden, and we would can what we grew so we could eat from that for winter,” Jorgensen said.

“I was off from teaching one summer and I started having neuropathy, tingling in my hands that started going up into my arm. I went back to school in September, to my second-grade classroom, and found I could barely raise my arm when I tried to write on the board or hang posters. It got to be really scary.”

After a long list of doctors, she arrived at a diagnosis of fibromyalgia.

“The hardest part was it happened so fast there wasn’t time to adjust to it. One minute, life was full and rich, and I could do anything and, then, within four months, I was seeing every doctor I could think of,” she recalled.

“Within four months, they told me I was going to spend the rest of my life in a wheelchair.”

Forced to apply for disability and wanting to still care for her children, Jorgensen ordered a wheelchair but said one physical therapist warned her, “Once I got in it, I wouldn’t get out.”

At the time, Jorgensen said she would send her boys to school in the morning and use all of her energy simply to get dinner ready by the end of the day.

“I would go grocery shopping and have to leave my cart. I would set my cart aside and say, ‘Don’t empty my cart, I’ll be back,’ then I’d go to my car and have to put the seat back and lay flat for 15 or 20 minutes, or even fall asleep for an hour, before I could go back and finish,” she said.

Motivated to stave off a life of immobility, Jorgensen said she was challenged to walk five minutes per day.

“I could barely walk to the car and back to the house, so I started by making myself walk five minutes a day, and I dreaded it. Gradually, as I started with chiropractic help, I was able to start walking a little bit more,” she said, noting that one of her sons, Thaddeus Gala, ventured into health care.

Gala, now a chiropractor, began researching food and supplement choices during college, and he and his mother began making a list of changes, including omission of foods that contribute to inflammation.

“The first thing he told me was to stop eating oatmeal because it was inflaming me. That was tough for me. I thought, as most people did, oatmeal is healthy. He said, ‘Give me 30 days.’ After two weeks, I wanted to quit. I wasn’t feeling much better and might have even felt a bit worse,” Jorgensen said.

“Mentally I wasn’t feeling well, but I wanted to support my son. I’d given up on ever feeling better. About three weeks in, I started feeling better. By the end of the month, I had some more energy. After another 30 days, I was feeling better, sleeping better, had more energy, and I could go for longer walks.”

Gala said watching his mother struggle inspired him to want to help sufferers of chronic pain.

“When I was 10 years old, I have pictures of me remodeling the kitchen with a crowbar, getting ready for her life in a wheelchair. The doctors just told her, ‘We don’t really know what’s wrong,’ ” Gala said, noting that an anatomy and physiology class led him into chiropractic care. Gala’s health coaching business focuses on dietary education and supplements.

“I didn’t have a mom growing up, so I wanted to find a way to help her. Now my mom is into her 70s and running 5K races,” Gala said.

“We live in a time where 70 percent of the population is overweight or obese. I’m emotionally torn between believing people should have the liberty and freedom they want but that most people aren’t given the support and tools to make better choices. Helping my mom was my first time health coaching, and I didn’t realize I was doing it.”

Within the first two months of her dietary changes and steadily increasing exercise regimen, Jorgensen realized the migraines she had once suffered had all but disappeared, and a doctor who had diagnosed her years earlier with early stage diverticulitis could no longer find any signs of the disease.

Tackling the Pear Blossom race as she nears her 71st birthday, Jorgensen said she feels better now than she did in her 40s and 50s.

“I keep feeling stronger and stronger, I have more mental clarity, and I just feel extremely fortunate,” she said.

“What I’m hoping to do is to show up and finish and just do the best I can. I would love to place first, second or third, but mostly I just enjoy the run and I want to feel good during and after. There’s always that sense of accomplishment when I finish one. Every day I just try to be a little bit better than I was the day before.”

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. Email her at buffyp76@yahoo.com.

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