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Running with Heart

How Jenna Fought for Her Heart’s Wholeness to Run Free

Imagine being an athlete your entire life, running with heart as much as possible and yet still feeling like every day was a struggle.  Like you knew you had more to give but your body seemed to keep failing you no matter how disciplined you were. If Jenna’s story doesn’t inspire you to move I’m not sure what else could. 

As an athlete for most of her life, Jenna always felt breathless at times and like she just physically couldn’t push harder despite wanting to.  It turns out it had nothing to do with her athletic ability or intrinsic motivation, she had and still has both of those to the max! But, as we find out below in her interview it was a missing piece in the most vital muscular organ in the body: her heart. 

I did not know that I had two holes in my heart that prevented good oxygen flow, which was why I never could enjoy running to its fullest potential.

Today she thrives as not only an athlete but also as a mom to two active kids and as a middle school teacher.  

firecracker 5k, runner girl, idaph events, idaph 5k, brevard rotary

Running with Heart: Jenna’s Interview

How did you come to love running? 

I have been interested in sports and played them for as long as I can remember. I came to love working out as more of a hobby after I had my children who are 8 and 10 years old.  It was a great way to relieve stress and have some “me” time.  As much as I have always wanted to love to run, I never did enjoy it until recently.  I did not know that I had two holes in my heart that prevented good oxygen flow, which was why I never could enjoy running to its fullest potential.

How did running feel before surgery? 

Before I had heart surgery in August of 2021, every time I would run for any length of time I would get winded quickly and dizzy.  It did not matter how in shape I was.  I kept pushing anyway and figured that this just must be what it feels like to run. Doctors in the past said it was due to asthma, but we came to later find out it was due to heart defects.

When did you discover your diagnosis?

I have suffered from stroke symptom migraines since high school.  I kept having an increase in the amount of migraines I was having and the severity of them. No migraine medicine I tried was working so I started doing my own research.  Since I also had breathing/oxygen issues I decided to make an appointment with a cardiologist and asked for a echocardiogram.  It was there that we discovered the holes and also discovered that I suffered from severe hypoxia upon exertion.  A lot of my blood was skipping being filtered/re-oxygenated due to the holes which was causing the hypoxia and migraines.

How has your life changed since surgery?

On the way home from surgery I kept saying to my husband that I couldn’t believe how easy it was to breathe.  It felt so smooth.  Such a hard feeling to describe but it was amazing.  I have not had a migraine since surgery over 6 months ago and I can also breathe and do not get dizzy while I workout. It has completely changed my quality of life. Hard to believe I went 34 years not knowing what was impacting my life so much. I can not thank my cardiologist in Hendersonville enough and my surgeon at Duke.  They listened to me, found the issue, and fixed it.  Also very thankful to God for pointing me in the right direction and for pushing me to find the answers. I am beyond thankful.

What are you most excited about for 2022?

I am just so excited to be able to enjoy life more and see what all my body can do now.  I have loved lifting weights since having my children, but now I am enjoying running as well!  I have signed up for a 4 mile race as well as a 5K this spring. I am still not the best runner, but I have always given it my all! Looking forward to seeing what all I can accomplish.  

If you are having physical issues from exercise, I urge you to research and find a doctor who will listen. Advocate for yourself, get second opinions if needed, and keep trying your best!

What advice would you give to anyone struggling to get back into running or fitness? 

Keep pushing everyday to do your best.  It is ok to take a rest day and take it easy as long as you don’t give up.  Find the time for yourself.  Life can get crazy busy, but it is important to value yourself. If you are having physical issues from exercise, I urge you to research and find a doctor who will listen. Advocate for yourself, get second opinions if needed, and keep trying your best!

Music or no music when running? 

Most definitely listen to music.  I won’t lie, some good 1990’s and early 2000’s pop/hip hop music are my favorite to run to.  It helps me get that initial energy/motivation that I need to push into a workout.

Favorite running shoe?

Still trying out different shoes since I have a flatter foot. I love Brooks. Glycerins are super cushioned but a bit heavy for me personally.  Revels are super light but lack the support that I need for longer runs.  Recently I went back to Ghost and it seems to be the overall shoe that I am looking for that is light and supported.

 

Thank you to Jenna for sharing her story and continuing to show up daily for herself, kids and the community. 
I hope her story inspires you to give your all today and to be your own best advocate for your health! Don’t ignore the warning signs of potential heart health issues. Seek your primary care physician asap if you feel like any of the symptoms you’re experiencing feel like something more than just a hard exercise effort. 

And remember: run with heart.