‘I plan to keep go­ing’

Cov­ing­ton woman told she’d never walk again runs af­ter ther­apy

The Covington News - - FRONT PAGE - ROB DEWIG rdewig@cov­news.com

Tichelle Florence’s doc­tor told her she’d never walk again once her dis­ease forced her into a wheel­chair.

Thank God he was wrong. Or thank Kel­lye Wil­liams of So­cial Cir­cle, the fit­ness trainer who helped Florence get back on her feet. But if you do thank her, know that Wil­liams gives the credit right back to God.

Florence was di­ag­nosed at 12 with Friedre­ich’s ataxia, a neu­ro­mus­cu­lar dis­ease. Her de­te­ri­o­rat­ing mus­cles forced her into a wheel­chair — and deep de­pres­sion — six years ago. She’d all but given up hope.

“I was just like dead, re­ally de­pressed,” Florence said. “I pretty much slept all the time. I didn’t want to do any­thing.”

That was then. Now, the fit 26-year-old Cov­ing­ton na­tive spends 45 min­utes each Wed­nes­day and Satur­day pulling 100-pound tractor tires across the floor of Kel­lye

Per­sonal Fit­ness, where she’s trained hard with Wil­liams for the past eight months. She’s par­tic­i­pated in two races — on her feet the whole way — and has plans for two more in com­ing weeks.

The mir­a­cle be­gins…

Last De­cem­ber, Florence’s fi­ancé Jeremy Thomp­son con­vinced her to go shop­ping at Kroger. It was rough, she didn’t want to be there, but she toughed it out.

Good thing, be­cause that’s when Wil­liams, shop­ping for a Christ­mas party, saw her in her wheel­chair.

“I passed them and it was just so sad to see some­one so young in a wheel­chair,” Wil­liams said. “I kept walk­ing and got my stuff and checked out and walked to my car out in the park­ing lot.

“A lot of peo­ple might think it’s weird, but I think God spoke to me and told me to of­fer her my ser­vices at no charge,” Wil­liams said. “I didn’t even know her con­di­tion, but I thought if God was telling me to do it I could help.”

So Wil­liams quickly walked to­ward Florence’s car — per­haps a bit too quickly.

“We were get­ting in the car and this lady was com­ing up to us and she looked pretty mad,” Florence said, laugh­ing at the mem­ory.

“She said she was de­ter­mined,” Thomp­son said.

Wil­liams was in­deed. She ex­plained that she’d help how­ever she could, for free. Florence and Thomp­son were deeply touched, but Thomp­son said they couldn’t com­mit to any ther­apy with­out a doc­tor’s per­mis­sion be­cause Florence was hav­ing heart prob­lems, too. Wil­liams said she’d be there when they needed her, and waited.

On New Year’s Eve, Florence, doc­tor’s per­mis­sion in hand, ner­vously showed up at Wil­liams’ New­ton Drive gym.

Train­ing hard

Noth­ing has been easy since then. Twice a week, Florence whips heavy ropes around, walks around with Thomp­son and Wil­liams on ei­ther side (in case her knees buckle; it hap­pens with ataxia some­times), and lit­er­ally hauls tractor tires across the room, her fian-

I’m blown away all the time, the things she does. It’s the most in­cred­i­ble thing I’ve ever been a part of. It’s be­yond me. It’s God.

— Kel­lye Wil­liams

owner, Kel­lye Per­sonal Fit­ness

cé hold­ing her in place to keep her from fall­ing for­ward. The tires weigh as much as she does.

And it’s all worked. She walked the 165-foot Ba­con Chase in At­lanta last March, and made it a kilo­me­ter in the Loco Glo in Ken­nes­saw in May. She plans to walk in Cov­ing­ton’s Fuzz Run on Sept. 13.

The Ba­con Chase was tough, Florence said.

“The whole time I was so ner­vous – ‘I’m gonna fall, I’m gonna fall.’ I was so scared,” she said.

Thomp­son agreed: “She was ready to turn around and back out of it. But she toughed it out and said ‘Let’s do this.’ And she made it. It was the far­thest she’s walked since she got in the wheel­chair.” Six years be­fore. “It was very ex­cit­ing,” Florence said. “I got to the fin­ish line and ev­ery­body was cheer­ing for me. I was like, ‘I made it!’”

Na­tional news

The Huff­in­g­ton Post got word of her ac­com­plish­ment and did a story. Then Fox & Friends in­vited her and Wil­liams on the air, live, last Sun­day.

“Peo­ple saw me on the Huff­in­g­ton Post and are say­ing ‘You’re so in­spir­ing’ and hug­ging me and I’m go­ing ‘My gosh, I’m touch­ing peo­ple,’” Florence said. “I plan to keep go­ing.”

Wil­liams, for her part, down­plays her role, cred­it­ing Florence for hav­ing the courage to get through it and God for get­ting them to­gether.

“I’m a Chris­tian and I’ve seen God’s work in a lot of things, but I’ve never seen any­thing like this,” Wil­liams said. “I’m blown away all the time, the things she does. It’s the most in­cred­i­ble thing I’ve ever been a part of. It’s be­yond me. It’s God.

“To see her life change and im­prove in ev­ery way – phys­i­cally, emo­tion­ally, spir­i­tu­ally – I am be­yond happy I got to be a part of it.”

Dar­rell Everidge/The Cov­ing­ton News

(Top) Tichelle Florence, 26, hauls a tractor tire across the floor of Kel­lye Per­sonal Fit­ness in Cov­ing­ton on Wed­nes­day. Di­ag­nosed with Friedre­ich’s ataxia at age 12, Florence was told she’d never walk again. Wrong. She’s walk­ing in marathons. (Above) Fit­ness trainer Kel­lye Wil­liams, left, and Jeremy Thomp­son walk be­side Tichelle Florence as she ex­er­cises Wed­nes­day. For 45 min­utes twice a week, Florence trains hard to fight the dis­ease doc­tors told her would con­fine her to a wheel­chair.

Dar­rell Everidge/The Cov­ing­ton News

Tichelle Florence works hard with fit­ness trainer Kel­lye Wil­liams.

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