Tichelle Florence’s doctor told her she’d never walk again once her disease forced her into a wheelchair.
Thank God he was wrong. Or thank Kellye Williams of Social Circle, the fitness trainer who helped Florence get back on her feet. But if you do thank her, know that Williams gives the credit right back to God.
Florence was diagnosed at 12 with Friedreich’s ataxia, a neuromuscular disease. Her deteriorating muscles forced her into a wheelchair — and deep depression — six years ago. She’d all but given up hope.
“I was just like dead, really depressed,” Florence said. “I pretty much slept all the time. I didn’t want to do anything.”
That was then. Now, the fit 26-year-old Covington native spends 45 minutes each Wednesday and Saturday pulling 100-pound tractor tires across the floor of Kellye Personal Fitness, where she’s trained hard with Williams for the past eight months. She’s participated in two races — on her feet the whole way — and has plans for two more in coming weeks.
The miracle begins…
Last December, Florence’s fiancé Jeremy Thompson convinced her to go shopping at Kroger. It was rough, she didn’t want to be there, but she toughed it out.
Good thing, because that’s when Williams, shopping for a Christmas party, saw her in her wheelchair.
“I passed them and it was just so sad to see someone so young in a wheelchair,” Williams said. “I kept walking and got my stuff and checked out and walked to my car out in the parking lot.
“A lot of people might think it’s weird, but I think God spoke to me and told me to offer her my services at no charge,” Williams said. “I didn’t even know her condition, but I thought if God was telling me to do it I could help.”
So Williams quickly walked toward Florence’s car – perhaps a bit too quickly.
“We were getting in the car and this lady was coming up to us and she looked pretty mad,” Florence said, laughing at the memory.
“She said she was determined,” Thompson said.
Williams was indeed. She explained that she’d help however she could, for free. Florence and Thompson were deeply touched, but Thompson said they couldn’t commit to any therapy without a doctor’s permission because Florence was having heart problems, too. Williams said she’d be there when they needed her, and waited.
On New Year’s Eve, Florence, doctor’s permission in hand, nervously showed up at Williams’ Newton Drive gym.
Nothing has been easy since then. Twice a week, Florence whips heavy ropes around, walks around with Thompson and Williams on either side (in case her knees buckle; it happens with ataxia sometimes), and literally hauls tractor tires across the room, her fiancé holding her in place to keep her from falling forward. The tires weigh as much as she does.
And it’s all worked. She walked the 165-foot Bacon Chase in Atlanta last March, and made it a kilometer in the Loco Glo in Kennessaw in May. She plans to walk in Covington’s Fuzz Run on Sept. 13.
The Bacon Chase was tough, Florence said.
“The whole time I was so nervous – ‘I’m gonna fall, I’m gonna fall.’ I was so scared,” she said.
Thompson agreed: “She was ready to turn around and back out of it. But she toughed it out and said ‘Let’s do this.’ And she made it. It was the farthest she’s walked since she got in the wheelchair.”
Six years before.
“It was very exciting,” Florence said. “I got to the finish line and everybody was cheering for me. I was like, ‘I made it!’”
The Huffingtonpost got word of her accomplishment and did a story. Then Fox & Friends invited her and Williams on the air, live, last Sunday.
“People saw me on the Huffingtonpost and are saying ‘You’re so inspiring’ and hugging me and I’m going ‘My gosh, I’m touching people,’” Florence said. “I plan to keep going.”
Williams, for her part, downplays her role, crediting Florence for having the courage to get through it and God for getting them together.
“I’m a Christian and I’ve seen God’s work in a lot of things, but I’ve never seen anything like this,” Williams said. “I’m blown away all the time, the things she does. It’s the most incredible thing I’ve ever been a part of. It’s beyond me. It’s God.
“To see her life change and improve in every way – physically, emotionally, spiritually – I am beyond happy I got to be a part of it.”