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Sometimes thing happen to you that may seem horrible, painful, and unfair, which makes you ask yourself, why me? But, upon reflection, you realize that without overcoming those obstacles, you would have never realized your potential, inner strength, will power, or heart.
“I’m not amazing or special, I’m just doing the best I can with the cards I’ve been dealt. I still feel everything happens for a reason and is part of God’s plan. It’s up to me to make the best of it so the least I can do is to take care of myself and try to be strong for others.” These words were spoken by one of the most inspiring individuals I have ever met, Dan Erschen.
April 4, 1990, will be a day Dan will never forget. He had lost all strength in a matter of three days. Not only was he unable to walk, but he didn’t even have enough strength and coordination to even feed himself. He says it was like his entire body had fallen asleep. This led to three weeks in the hospital, high doses of steroids, and 6 plasmapheresis treatments.
“I call it 6 oil changes – they suck all the blood out of my body, spin it, give me back my red and white cells, and replace the plasma from a donor.”
After three months of intense therapy, he was able to button his own shirt, but it took an entire year to completely recover this attack. However, he ended up in a very familiar situation ten years later. This attack ended up being worse. Much worse. Although he was hospitalized for only one week, Dan was unable to walk for one year and four months. This is when they finally diagnosed him with Multiple Sclerosis. Multiple Sclerosis is a neurological illness that has chronic symptoms and currently is untreatable.
One day, Dan had decided to give his wife, Bonnie, a membership to Westwood Health and Fitness. Being the motivational person he is, he decided it would be a good idea to try and encourage her by exercising right along with her. The first day was hard, but he never gave up. He started off only being able to do the elliptical machine for a total of five minutes. Four months later, he was able to work up to 45 minutes. He says exercise is what had given him his life back, and helped build his self confidence to a level that he knew he could do anything he set his mind to.
Eight years after Dan’s second MS attack, he fell into peer pressure. His inspirational friends at Westwood encouraged him to sign up for the 2008 Ironman in Madison, Wisconsin. The ironman is a triathlon that consists of a 2.4 mile swim, followed by a 112 mile bike ride, and lastly an entire 26.2 mile marathon. The event is to be completed within 17 hours, all in one day. He says he learned to appreciate the little things in life, so he decided to mark his calendar.
That day finally rolled around. Before the event started, Dan looked around and saw over a hundred bright yellow t-shirts, the ones he gave to his friends and family that came to support him. Spirits were high. At 7:00 on the morning of September 7, 2008, the cannon went off. When he was nearing the finish of the swim, he could hear nothing but people yelling and cheering him on. He was swimming as fast as he possibly could. He just about reached the shore when it became quiet. As he climbed up on shore, he looked at his watch. One hour and 21 minutes. He was one minute too late. Only one minute. The cut off time was one hour and 20 minutes, and now his race was over.
Emotions were flying through the air. Knowing he did his best, he was just thankful for being able to get there. His journey inspired many people in his life, and he truly believes that everything happens for a reason. Dan appreciated every moment of that day and took from those moments everything he possibly could. He knew he wasn’t a failure; he did the best he could. Dan had then decided he was going to participate in the 2010 Ironman, at the same location. His goal for this round was to beat his swim time by 30 minutes, which he knew he was capable of doing.
It was September 12, 2010, the day of the Ironman. He was in another familiar atmosphere. There were people everywhere, the music was blaring, and there were bright yellow shirts scattered throughout the crowd cheering him on. Fortunately, I was able to be one of the spectators in the crowd attending this inspirational event. I will never forget the motivational experience.
Once again, the cannon went off at 7:00 in the morning. Before he knew it, he was out of the water 29 minutes earlier than the previous Ironman. He made it. He spent 17 minutes in the transition between swimming and biking. Within this time he prayed to God as the tears poured out of him. Now he just had to get through the 112 miles biking and the marathon. Biking started off well, until the last 55 miles. MS started to kick in. However, he never gave up. His feet were burning and it turned into strictly pain, but he pushed through it and met his friend, Lowell, at the transition. They pushed each other, because they knew they were both capable of doing it. Dan and Lowell ended up running the entire marathon together. At approximately 9:40 at night, they crossed the finish line, together.
“The first thing I said when I crossed the finish line 140.6 miles later was thank you God!”
Today, Dan still has problems with MS. Not being able to walk 2-3 nights per week is a great challenge for him. He says he was blessed with having MS, since it has changed his life for the better.
“I’ve learned that relationships with family and friends are so much more important than any materialistic thing in the world. I’ve learned the true power of living while simply having fun. I’ve learned it is so much more rewarding to help others than to be self centered and caught up in your own self pity. I’ve learned how important it is to have faith in my life.”
Dan says he truly believes the saying “you help yourself by helping others,” which is how he determined his next goal to be to help someone accomplish the Ironman. He wants to help someone who thinks that they are unable to do it, or maybe even someone with MS that is in the same situation he was.
Dan Erschen is by far one of the most inspiring individuals I have ever met. He taught me to appreciate the little things in life. He taught me to make each and every day count, by living your life to the fullest with no regrets. Most importantly, he taught me to always have faith, never give up, and always be thankful for the friends and family you have, because they will always be there for you through everything. Hearing his story truly made me believe that anything is possible.