- Success Stories -

Life, Interrupted

A dozen years ago, Jodi Ring suffered two brain aneurysms that could easily have left her dead. Instead, they led her to get on her bike and ride.

man running

Jodi Ring has few memories of the day in January 1996 that changed her life, but she does remember this: One moment, she was walking in the Dallas airport with her husband and daughter on a layover while homeward bound from a New Zealand vacation. The next, she was in the intensive-care unit of the Zale Lipshy University Hospital.

Ring, 50, had been felled by two brain aneurysms, a cataclysmic event from which few people survive, let alone make a full recovery. Thanks to the quick intervention of skilled emergency-room doctors and neurosurgeons, she was lucky enough to do both.

Three weeks in the ICU and three months of at-home recovery gave Ring, a fifth-grade teacher from Plymouth, Mich., time to reconsider her priorities. Her health and her family were at the top of her list. Her time was a gift, and she was determined to use it wisely.

Back to Basics

Doctors said there was no way that Ring, then a trim and healthy 38-year-old, could have predicted — or prevented — the aneurysms. Though she suffered minor memory loss and temporary mood swings, Ring realized how lucky she was to walk away nearly unscathed.

“Many people get depressed after something like this,” she says. “But it was different for me. I was so grateful for life. I wanted to taste every bit of it.” Her doctor, an athlete, encouraged Ring to get active.

Two months into her recovery, she and her husband, Howard, decided to buy a tandem bicycle, which they dubbed “The Celebration of Life” bike. It allowed Jodi to work out with Howard, an avid cyclist, without worrying about slowing him down. And it meant he would be close by in case a seizure — a possible side effect of an aneurysm — occurred. The bike signified a marked change in Jodi’s activity level, which previously had included the occasional volleyball game and keeping up with her students.

Ring and her husband started with short rides along trails in local parks and gradually built up to 50 miles in a single trip. By the following year, 1997, the two decided they were ready for a bigger challenge and signed up for the West Shoreline Tour, a seven-day bicycle trip along Lake Michigan where cyclists ride more than 60 miles a day.

They worked together diligently to build Jodi’s endurance, joining a local cycling club for Tuesday-night rides and going with friends on longer routes.

“My confidence was building, and my body wasn’t hurting,” Jodi says. “I knew I was ready for the next level.” And she was: The seven-day ride turned out to be both a thrilling and inspiring experience, one that expanded Ring’s sense of her own athletic potential. “I never thought I would be able to cycle like that,” she says.

For Howard, the physical benefits were just a small part of what they gained from their many hours on the bike. “It’s something we get to experience together,” he says. “It’s given us one more thing to share.”

A Healthy Plan

For five years, Ring’s recovery seemed right on track. She’d had no further seizures, she’d added significant physical activity to her daily life, and she was spending more time with her husband and daughter.

But in 2001 she opted to add a second medication designed to prevent a different type of seizure her doctor was concerned about. While the pills did the job, they also slowed down her metabolism and increased her appetite. As a result, she began gaining weight at the rate of about 10 pounds a year.

“My doctor asked whether I wanted to reduce the dosage, but the medicine was preventing seizures, so I was nervous to change something that was working,” Jodi recalls.

At first, the extra weight wasn’t a problem: Jodi had only 100 pounds stretched on her 5-foot-6-inch frame and could afford to gain. As one year led to another, however, the pounds began to add up.

In 2007, at a routine doctor’s exam, she was stunned by the changes: “When I stepped on the scale, I weighed 169 pounds, which was more than I had weighed when I was nine months pregnant.”

She realized she needed to do more than just ride her bike if she wanted to halt and reverse the effects of her medication. So she stepped up her activity, taking more cycling and barbell-strength classes at her Life Time Fitness club in Canton, Mich.

Connie Scaparo, group-fitness department head at the Canton club and one of Jodi’s instructors, says she stood out from the very beginning. “Jodi never says ‘I can’t,’” says Scaparo. “She takes small steps every day to be successful.”

Ring also began paying closer attention to the information on her heart-rate monitor (which she’d been using since 2006) and increasing the duration and intensity of her activities.

Toughest of all, she gave up sugared soda, the one major vice in her otherwise healthy diet. The incremental changes had an impact. Over the course of the next year, she lost 25 pounds.

Jodi has since worked hard to maintain her weight. She blocks out time in her schedule for workouts, particularly during the holidays, when she knows she’ll indulge in rich foods. She’s also grown to appreciate simple pleasures and motivations. She especially looks forward to the tiny electronic trophy symbol she receives on her heart-rate monitor when she achieves her weekly goals. Little changes, practiced consistently, have helped Ring tackle larger challenges.

Passing It On

Jodi and Howard continue to cycle more than 1,000 miles every year, and they now have seven Shoreline tours under their belts. She also maintains her group-fitness workouts, which she plans to continue for years to come.

And Ring is sharing her passion for fitness with her students, emphasizing that health and education are often more similar than kids realize.

“As a teacher, I try to show kids that you need to set goals no matter what you’re doing, whether it’s exercise or schoolwork,” she says. “You work, you practice, you do your homework. And when you complete that ride, it’s a little like getting an A-plus paper. Both achievements can give you a wonderful feeling.”

Erin Peterson is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer.

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