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Why Do You Tri? - Wendy Spohn

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As a dual military couple stationed in Germany, we were thrilled by the news in 2006 that we would be adding a little girl to our small family. Everything was perfect until the day she was born in a small hospital in Bamberg. We found out post-partum that she suffered from Heterotaxy Syndrome which includes many serious birth defects.

She only had three chambers in her heart, four spleens, and biliary atresia which forced her liver to shut down. These were just some of the more serious problems. We were medically evacuated to Walter Reed Army Hospital 6 weeks later only to learn that her prognosis was grim.

She made a final transfer to Children’s National Medical Center in Washington DC for the first of her major operations. My husband, one-year old son and I had left all our belongings in military housing in Germany with the promise that someone would ship everything to us soon. Since we were on a medical TDY status, we had no duty station to call home. We were homeless until the Ronald McDonald House of Washington DC took us in. They provided shelter that we could afford and food when we needed it. It was a blessing to have a place for our son to take a break from the hospital and just enjoy being a toddler. Julia received wonderful care from some of the world’s top surgeons. She was the miracle child that was supposed to come home. After her first major heart repair, she was given the clearance to receive a new liver. On Monday, October 9th we were informed by our social worker that Julia’s medical bills had just totaled over one million dollars. The following Thursday we were told that she was doing very well so they pulled all of her main lines, including her antibiotics. On Friday she got sick. Saturday, her kidneys shut down and the hospital priest administered last rites. Sadly, our Julia succumbed to a hospital-borne infection that took her life on Tuesday, October 17, 2006. She died in our arms and was carried to Heaven on the wings of a butterfly.

I had gained so much weight and didn’t know if I would be able to return to the military’s body-fat standard in time to keep my job. Shortly after her burial our family signed in for duty at Aberdeen Proving Ground and began to try to get our lives back on track. Our son had just turned two and was the sole reason that I fought every day for composure and a sense of normalcy. Through the first stages of grief I hired a personal trainer and managed to lose close to 50 pounds in 4 months. Our unit was sympathetic and waited until I was ready for my physical fitness test and the dreaded weigh-in. When I passed, by the skin of my teeth, I thought things might be looking up. A couple of months later, we discovered that I was pregnant again. We were ecstatic until I lost the baby at about 12 weeks. Three more miscarriages followed closely in the next 2 years. After the last one this past May, I decided that I’d had enough! I could either let it get me down or I could take the summer off and do something I’ve always wanted to do. I had debated on the best way to honor my daughter before I was transferred out of this area for good. What could I do that would compare to the amount of pain that she went through every day for 4 months, her entire life? Get a tattoo? Too short-lived. How about an Olympic Distance Triathlon (The Nation’s Tri)on my birthday (September 13th), in the city in which she passed away. My husband and fellow Soldier completed this journey with me. Our son was ready at the finish line so that we could cross as a family. My grief counselor called it “coming full circle.” It was our very first attempt at a triathlon of this distance and we knew that every ounce of pain that we endured was in honor of Julia Lani Spohn, may she rest in peace. We have since completed 7 more in her honor as a part of Team Julia Lani and will continue to do so as long as our bodies allow.

– Wendy Spohn

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