Maddie Walsh is thankful. She's thankful she can still do what she's always loved.
"I absolutely love running," says Walsh. "It's one of my favorite things to do."
And it always has been.
"I can't sing worth a hoot, but I can run. That's what I can do," says Walsh.
Walsh ran track and cross county in high school at Maple Valley-Anthon Oto, but during her senior year, multiple injuries stopped her in her tracks.
"Things got a little bumpy," says Walsh.
She had her appendix and gall bladder taken out, but things only got worse.
"The worst was for me when I was taken from school," says Walsh. "The ambulance had to come and get me twice."
She was diagnosed with conversion disorder, which is a mental illness where her body turns emotional stress into physical problems. For Walsh, she would have seizures-like episodes multiple times a day.
"It was 10 to 15 times a day when it was at its worst," says Walsh.
Since it happened so often, Walsh quickly overcame the embarrassment of her illness. And so did her friends, who posed for pictures while she was passed out. At prom, she made her entrance in her date's arms out cold.
"My mom always says to rock what you go and I had a seizure episode, so I'm rocking it," says Walsh.
But her senior year was hard one. She was 15 pounds lighter and very sick. She finished the year in a wheelchair.
"I'd go to school for three hours a day, if I could handle it," says Walsh.
She spent that summer in the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota battling her conversion disorder and shaking the stigma of mental illness.
"A lot of people go to those place but people don't talk about it," says Walsh. "Parents brag when their kids win soccer games, not when they have to take their kids for a few weeks to a psych ward, but we're humans and at different times our emotions are crazy and at times we need help."
But with college on the horizon, she was ready for a fresh start. She hit the track with the Morningside College cross country team that fall, but just when she was hitting her stride, another injury.
"Oh man, I had some real rough pain," says Walsh.
Turns out she broke her pelvis. After rehab, she was determined to compete again.
"I didn't know if I would be the same runner and I was really starting to click and I hit the 10K and that was my favorite race I'd run in my whole career because I was back," says Walsh. "I called my dad and I said I was back and it was going to be okay and I was going to be able to compete."
But just a few weeks later, she was side-lined once more with fractures in her foot and shin. With her body giving out, her athletic dreams faded. It was time for Maddie to trade in her tennies for her cowboy boots.
"I never felt at peace about letting running go even though I've had all of these injuries," says Walsh.
"It was just so tough to see someone who had put in 110 percent everyday, always taking care of her body, always getting what she needed, and then having that unfortunate ending," says Eric Koithan, Walsh's longtime friend and teammate. "But she would get up every time she fell down and then cheer on the team."
Even though she had to quit the competition, Walsh never quit the team. She's still very much a Mustang.
"I can't do the full workouts, but I can still stand in the middle of the track and I can yell the whole time," says Walsh. "That's how I can help them now and give back what they gave to me."
"Having Maddie Walsh yell for you can inspire anyone on any given day at any given time," says David Nash, the head track and cross country coach at Morningside. "She's part of the glue in the soul of our team."
Walsh has faith things will work out in her future. Even though she'll never be the first to cross the finish line, she sees her success in her teammates and learning to love her life with the challenges.
"I can smile while I run and I can have a good attitude and now I just love being able to do it because it's been taken from me so many times," says Walsh.
And that's why Maddie Walsh is thankful.
The running that used to stress Walsh out now is a stress reliever for her. She's accepted her life with conversion disorder will never be normal, but she hopes her story will inspire others with the mental illness to continue to reach for their dreams.
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