Tichelle vs. mile = no contest

Woman told she’d never walk again com­pletes Fuzz Run

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

Tichelle Florence is tough. The 26-year-old Cov­ing­ton woman has Frei­drich’s ataxia, a wast­ing neu­ro­log­i­cal dis­ease that left her con­fined to a wheel­chair with no hope of walk­ing again — un­til she met Cov­ing­ton phys­i­cal trainer Kel­lye Wil­liams in a gro­cery park­ing lot.

For the past year, the pair has worked to get Florence out of her wheel­chair and back into life.

Satur­day morn­ing, Florence took a big step in that di­rec­tion, com­plet­ing the Cov­ing­ton Po­lice Fuzz Run.

She cer­tainly didn’t run. But she com­pleted the 1-mile route in slightly more than three hours. She got sick on the way, hav­ing eaten too late in the morn­ing for such a gru­el­ing course. But she made it, fin­ish­ing to a rous­ing cheer from fel­low par­tic­i­pants.

She started her day that way, too, as she was al­lowed to be­gin 15 min­utes be­fore ev­ery­one else.

“There’s a re­ally neat story at the Fuzz Run this year. Tichelle Florence is here,” or­ga­nizer CPD Capt. Ken Mal­com said into his mi­cro­phone. He urged par­tic­i­pants to line the start line to cheer for her. Hun­dreds did so.

“It’s all right, you’re ready, don’t be ner­vous,” Wil­liams said as she and Florence’s fi­ancé, Jeremy Thomp­son, each grabbed an arm and helped Florence from her wheel­chair. A CPD of­fi­cer took the lead on a Seg­way while another fol­lowed the whole way in a golf car with blue lights.

“We got this,” Thomp­son said as the crowd cheered. Was she ner­vous? “Yes,” she said, smil­ing. Had she been work­ing hard? “Very,” she said. And then she didn’t want to talk any­more. She had a long way to go.

“You’re do­ing awe­some,” Cov­ing­ton’s Rod­ney John­son shouted from the road­side. “You’re an in­spi­ra­tion for, like, 1,000 peo­ple!”

Duane Oblinger of Al­pharetta didn’t ex­pect any­thing like it when he drove down for the race: “I think it’s fan­tas­tic. Life is one step at a time.”

For Florence, it cer­tainly is. Each step looked painful, her right an­kle curl­ing in and un­der, of­ten caus­ing her stum­ble. Wil­liams and Thomp­son were al­ways there, hold­ing tight, en­cour­ag­ing her.

Florence did her best to smile the whole way, although her dis­com­fort was ob­vi­ous. She said Thomp­son kept ask­ing her “Do I feel like a celebrity? I was like, ‘No, I hate it.’”

She gained fame ear­lier this year when her story reached the na­tional level. She was fea­tured on the Huff­in­g­ton Post web­site and on “Fox & Friends.”

For Florence, walk­ing again has never been enough. She’s par­tic­i­pated in two prior fundrais­ing walk­ing events, with the Fuzz Run by far the long­est to date. Wil­liams said she’d walked an out­door route for a mile with Florence as train­ing for the Fuzz Run, and Florence has made it a mile on the tread­mill at Kel­lye Per­sonal Fit­ness, Wil­liams’ gym, as well.

“Just keep look­ing ahead,” Thomp­son said. “Fo­cus on a spot and get to that spot. You can do it. Just re­mem­ber, each step is another closer to the fin­ish line.”

Mans­field’s Debbi Krisher just shook her head in ad­mi­ra­tion: “I think she’s re­ally cool. I heard she’s been work­ing re­ally hard to get here. She’s some­one you just have to ad­mire.”

Pho­tos by An­thony Banks/the Cov­ing­ton News

Kel­lye Wil­liams, left, and Jeremy Thomp­son help Tichelle Florence across the fin­ish line at Satur­day’s Cov­ing­ton Po­lice Fuzz Run. Di­ag­nosed with Frei­drich’s ataxia, Florence has bat­tled hard to fight the dis­ease and stay on her feet.

Tichelle Wil­liams cries after re­ceiv­ing a medal for fin­ish­ing her first one-mile race Satur­day.

(TOP): Tichelle Florence, cen­ter, leans on her trainer, Kel­lye Wil­liams, and her fi­ancé, Jeremy Thomp­son, early in the Fuzz Run Satur­day. It was her first mile-long race. Ten months ago, she was told she’d never walk again; (LEFT) par­tic­i­pants and on­look­ers wait for Tichelle at the fin­ish­ing line, cheer­ing her on.

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