- The Washington Times - Friday, May 23, 2003

Charlotte Reardon could barely run around the track at her high school two years ago. Now she’s one of the top runners in Montgomery County, an achievement that didn’t come easily.

Running is more than just a sport for Charlotte, who suffers from cystic fibrosis. “Running is my main medicine, and it’s done a lot of good for me,” she says.

Cystic fibrosis, a congenital disorder, causes excessive mucus production in the lungs and digestive tract, making it difficult for her to go even one lap without coughing up mucus.

After a summer of waking up friends to run with her every morning, and two years of overcoming physical pain with willpower, Charlotte, 17, transformed herself from a weakling into a physically fit and determined leader. In the process, she made a mark on those around her, and on May 17 led her Good Counsel High School track team to the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference (WCAC) championship. She ran in the 800, 1,600 and 3,200 meter races and anchored the first-place 4x800 relay.

“In this life, we coaches hope to inspire and motivate. No one has ever inspired or motivated me more than Charlotte,” says Tom Arnold, her cross-country and track coach at Good Counsel.

Charlotte, a petite, fresh-faced girl with a huge smile, will attend the University of Rochester in Rochester, N.Y., or Salisbury State University on Maryland’s Eastern Shore in the fall. She will run track for whichever college she attends.

Running has been her salvation. The more running she does, she says, the better she is able to breathe. Also, Her pancreas does not function, so she must take digestive enzyme pills to help her intestines digest fats.

Because of her digestive problems, Charlotte didn’t grow physically at the same pace as her peers during childhood.

“I would eat everything, but I still wouldn’t grow,” she says. “I still eat like a man. It’s a little ridiculous.”

Her friend and teammate Rachel Bentley confirms this with a roll of her eyes.

About once a month, Charlotte has to supplement her regular diet by feeding herself through a gastrointestinal tube implanted in her lower abdomen. She also uses a device that loosens any built-up mucus from her lungs.

Charlotte, the second of three sisters, didn’t have many hobbies or interests until her sophomore year in high school.

“I wanted to be a cheerleader, but I wasn’t coordinated enough,” says Charlotte, who was in and out of the hospital throughout her seventh- to ninth-grade years.

The spring of her sophomore year, she decided to go out for the track team.

“I was a horrible runner. I was so slow,” she says.

Mr. Arnold says she was “buried deep on the depth chart” on the Junior Varsity squad. Charlotte stuck with it and says she was inspired by Mr. Arnold’s passionate approach to running.

Entering her junior year, she won a spot on the varsity cross-country squad, but at her first meet, she broke the fibula in her right leg. Her bone density was too low from lack of calcium.

Charlotte underwent rehabilitation all winter, and doctors changed her diet. Last spring, she became one of Mr. Arnold’s most reliable runners.

“As long as you’re running, I’m not worried about you,” her doctor told her.

With just a year of high school left, Charlotte was not satisfied by the mere fact that running had improved her health.

“I was determined that the cross-country season was going to be amazing,” she says. So she organized runs five days a week over the summer with other girls who would be returning to the cross-country team in the fall.

“I’m kind of lazy. If I don’t run with other people, I don’t run that hard,” she says.

Charlotte led the cross-country team to the WCAC championship in November, beating the second-place finisher by 44 points.

“She developed the vision and was willing to assume the mantle of leadership all summer and fall,” Mr. Arnold says.

This spring, the Good Counsel girls track team won the conference championship for a clean sweep for the season.

“It’s really exciting when everybody runs well together,” says Charlotte, whose favorite race is the team relay.

Her biggest complaint is when people treat her differently because she has cystic fibrosis. “I know what it can do,” she says. “I’m in denial of the effects of CF because I’m healthy.”

During her frequent trips to Children’s Hospital as a child, Charlotte made lots of friends with other cystic fibrosis patients. Some of those friends died at a young age from the disease, which two decades ago had a life expectancy of 20 years. Today the life expectancy for cystic fibrosis sufferers is 35 years to 40 years.

Charlotte says she used to be angry because she suffers from the disease, but now she has a more positive attitude.

“If this is the only thing I have to deal with, I’m OK,” she says.

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