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Medtronic Global Heroes Overcome Illness and Fear With Running

Ellie sped along at the Rock 'n' Roll Seattle Half to a high-energy playlist including artists like the Black Eyed Peas, Girl Talk, Akon and Outcast. (Photo courtesy of Ryan Wilhelm)


As Christopher McDougall said in his book, Born to Run, “The reason we race isn’t so much to beat each other…but to be with each other.” Thanks to advances in medical technology, 25 long-distance runners who have struggled with chronic illnesses will be competing side-by-side in the upcoming Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon and 10 Mile races. These individuals, named 2012’s “Medtronic Global Heroes,” will celebrate their perseverance, accomplishments and passions for running on October 7.

We caught up with two of the female heroes, 10 mile contestant, Ellie Wilhelm and marathon participant, Rhonda Foulds (a Get-Healthy Success Story). Being diagnosed with a congenital heart condition and Parkinson’s disease, respectively, has not held these two fighters back from pursuing their dreams. Here's a look at their inspiring stories.

Ellie, 28, was 4-years-old when she was diagnosed with Atrial-Ventricular Septal Defect. She underwent open-heart surgery and had an active childhood until fainting spells in the 6th grade raised alarm. “I needed a pacemaker. I realized that I was not invincible and this is when my anxiety related to exercised developed,” Ellie said. Ellie struggled emotionally through high school and college athletics, often giving up in fear of pushing herself too hard. “A light bulb went off after college that told me that the only thing holding me back was ME.”

Ellie started small, working her way up to her first half-marathon with regular 5k races and completed her first 26.2 this past Memorial Day weekend. “Sometimes all I need is a run to keep me from making a poor food choice and relieve stress. The pacemaker should NOT be a limitation.” With more energy and her fitness fear behind her, Ellie has gotten involved in her community through running, joining the Ironheart Racing Team, a national organization that raises money and awareness for congenital heart defects (CHD), as well as Girls on the Run, an after-school program that teaches young girls about self-esteem, character, team building and healthy living.

Rhonda's favorite saying is, "Go as slow as you need to, but never give up." Here she is at the Fort Worth Labor Day 15k earlier this month. (Photo courtesy of Timothy J. Jones)


Rhonda was an active mother of three who had her world turned upside down when she was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in her 30s. After often relying on a wheelchair to get around, Rhonda regained mobility through deep brain stimulation in 2004 and it’s safe to say that she has not stopped running since—two marathons and 16 half-marathons, to name a few! Rhonda has been working hard for what she says is the most important race of her life with proper training, nutrition and Bon Jovi hits. “It is one of the few sports that you can continue doing as you age because you just adjust your speed and distance if need be. All you need are your sneakers and the open road to run.” Read more about Rhonda here!

 The Medtronic Foundation donates $1,000 in honor of each runner to a non-profit patient organization that educates and supports people who live with the Hero’s condition. The foundation also funds each Hero's race entry and travel expenses. For more information, check out The Medtronic Global Heroes website.