Eric Marchand looked at the disability papers and nearly threw them down.
The documents would have classified him as handicapped. They made him shudder.
"I was like, 'Hell no. Hell no!' " Marchand recalled. "I took them, but I felt like it was dirty money. It just didn't feel right. I discussed it with my mother and said, 'Disability? I'm not disabled. … That would be like if I gave in.' "
That's because five years ago, this 45-year-old Land O'Lakes resident suffered a stroke. He already had his bouts with Crohn's disease, which is an ongoing disorder that causes inflammation of the digestive tract, generally resulting in the removal of some of the tract.
Marchand also had autoimmune disease, which means the immune system attacks itself, causing the body to overact to even the most minor things.
When the stroke hit, Marchand lost feeling in the left side of his body and was blinded in his left eye. It was downright agonizing.
"It was probably the longest 45 minutes of my life," Marchand said. "I had no movement on the left side of my body. … I was so confused that there was no fear at all. I just didn't know what was going on."
Marchand does now. He's doing triathlons — has done 26 of them, in fact, since the stroke. He plans on running the St. Anthony's Triathlon in St. Petersburg on April 27, and, quite frankly, it's been a road to recovery that took him a while to get down.
"I had to shuffle (to get around)," Marchand said. "Every day I'd go a little farther. It takes me a half hour to go a quarter-mile. They should've given me a walker — that's how I was shuffling.
"It's not that it took me so long — it was exhausting."
Though he should have been taking it easy, recuperating in his recliner, Marchand instead moved around more than his doctor recommended. He ended up joining the Land O'Lakes Roadrunners club that meets at the Land O'Lakes Recreation Complex, next door to his Plantation Palms home. There, Marchand continued to shuffle, progressing his work and time.
Eventually, Roadrunners member Mike Kneapler suggested he try a triathlon. Kneapler said "You can tell he had a stroke … he was a below average runner, and he was still in a recovery phase" but he knew Marchand would soon excel.
"I knew how much he was enjoying the running part," Kneapler said. "I knew he enjoyed biking prior to the stroke as well. I knew that between the running and the biking, all he would have to do is pick up the swimming part, but two of the three sports, well, he was a natural at."
Rus Marlowe, a training partner at the Wrecking Crew, an informal group that trains for triathlons, only met Marchand after the stroke but couldn't believe he had been through such an ordeal.
"There was no 'I can't do this because of that,' " Marlowe said. "He was just an athlete and a very good one at that.
"I was shocked and surprised because I can't imagine what it's like to be him in a triathlon. It's difficult enough for me and I have full function of (both) my eyes."
Marchand's monthly training regimen includes 300 miles of biking, 80 miles of running and about 6 to 7 miles of swimming, but triathlons are still difficult to him. Marchand hasn't been the same. His cognitive ability is still a little off, and he sometimes just plain forgets what he's doing in the middle of it. And his equilibrium is diminished, too, especially when he swims.
Marchand has beaten every medical curveball thrown his way. He's handled each one like it's an everyday occurrence, and he refuses to be told he can't do something.
"Don't tell me to sit on the couch and stay there," Marchand said. "Don't tell me what I can't do. It's my stubbornness, but I just don't like to be told 'don't.' … Some say I shouldn't be alive. My doctor says I shouldn't be running a 5K or whatever. He'd say, 'Don't do that. Why are you doing that?' I want to do that.
"I'm not going to use the excuse of the stroke, or anything else, to say that I can't do this. If I know my body and know I can do it, then I'll do it."
Got a good story about a local athlete or recreation club in the community? Then contact Community Sports Editor Mike Camunas at [email protected] or call (352) 544-9480.