Greer woman overcomes incurable disease to complete 100-mile bike ride
One hundred miles is a long way to ride a bike.
Known as a century ride, the 100-mile ride is a rite of passage for the serious cyclist. Greer cyclist Jeri Richardson completed her first century ride in September, just a few months after completing the famed Assault on Mount Marion.
Either of these rides would be considered a significant accomplishment for any cyclist. For Richardson, they represent just how far she has come. In 2006, Richardson began having symptoms of Myasthenia gravis, a neuromuscular condition that affects voluntary muscles – the ability to swallow, breath, smile, walk and talk. She was diagnosed with hemifacial spasms and begin taking anti seizure medications.
Richardson said that, by 2007, it seemed nothing was working. She was weak and unable to even go up the stairs. The disease began to affect the muscles in her neck. She had a craniotomy and microvascular decompression to relieve pressure in her neck. Symptoms improved, but Richardson was still feeling significant fatigue. Approximately four months following the surgery, she felt well enough to go snow skiing with her family.
“On the last run of the night, someone ran into me and I fractured the vertebrae in my neck and re-injured my lower back,” Richardson said. “I spent six months in therapy to regain use of my left leg. There were days I was active and days I couldn't get out of bed.”
Richardson continued to search for answers, traveling to Augusta, Georgia, to see a neurologist there. Despite symptoms of Myasthenia gravis, blood tests for the condition came back negative. Doctors suggested that the disorder was psychosomatic. She continued to pursue answers, seeing specialists in Augusta, at Duke University in North Carolina and in Jacksonville, Florida. In 2010, doctors finally confirmed the cause of her weakness and fatigue was Myasthenia gravis. Following the diagnosis, her condition continued to deteriorate. Between 2010 and 2014, she was in the intensive care unit six times suffering from Myasthenic crisis, a complication of the disorder. Two of these times resulted in the necessity of a ventilator.
Later in 2014, Richardson was approved for an experimental treatment. This treatment, combined with surgery to remove her thymus gland and periodic immunoglobulin protein infusions, has improved her condition significantly. By 2017, she felt well enough to pursue fitness.
“My husband had been riding a bike for several years and I really had the desire to ride,” she said. “My husband bought me a bike and we began riding at the Swamp Rabbit Trail. I was only able to ride five miles my first time out.”
Richardson was able to increase that to eight miles. In the summer, she heard about a group ride designed for beginning cyclists.
“I was so nervous,” she said. “On the way to the ride, I called my husband and told him that I wanted to turn around and go home.”
Richardson found the courage to go on her first group ride – a decision that led not only to great fitness gains, but encouraging friends and a lot of life lessons.
“The group was so supportive, “ she said. “The friendships that I have made have been a huge blessing. Now that I am somewhat on the other side of this, I can see that life is kind of like a puzzle. I am able to see how the pieces have fallen into place. There are people I would not have met and lessons I would have never been able to learn if I had not had this condition. I am learning to be thankful.”
There is no cure for Myasthenia gravis, and Richardson is learning how far she can push her body.
“The average person has a bigger battery than I do,” she said. “Push too hard and I can end up in bed for a couple of days. I really have to be mindful.”
In spite of this, she has taken some really long rides.
The Assault on Marion was a very memorable ride for Richardson. The Assault is a 74.2-mile ride from Spartanburg to Marion, N.C. Cyclists come from around the country for this event and the Assault on Mount Mitchell.
“When I arrived at the finish, there were members of my cycling team there cheering for me,” she said. “It was one of the best feelings and something that I will never forget.”