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Woman Fulfilling Goals Set to Spite Multiple Sclerosis

August 5, 2003
Charlie Patton, Times-Union staff writer
The Florida Times-Union

Fourteen years ago, Cheryl Chatman, a 25-year-old mother of two young sons, faced a life crisis.

She was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a disease that affects more than 350,000 Americans, attacking the central nervous system. Among its debilitating symptoms are fatigue, weakness, spasticity, balance problems, bladder and bowel problems, numbness, tremor, vertigo and vision loss.

In Chatman's case, the predominant symptom was deteriorating vision. Unable to see anything but shapes, she is legally blind.

Although initially upset by the diagnosis, she decided she wouldn't feel sorry for herself.

"You cannot be both pitiful and powerful at the same time," she says. "I choose to be powerful."

That philosophy has served the ebullient Chatman, now 39, well.

Chatman, recently named volunteer of the year by Volunteer Jacksonville, is a spokeswoman for the MS Advocate Network and for the North Florida chapter of the MS Society.

"I want to be a voice for people who don't have one," she says. "This happened for a reason. I was put here to help others."

One way she has set an example is by pursuing a series of ambitious physical goals. Several years ago, she began a regimen of daily exercise, usually walking around a local junior high school track, and lost 63 pounds.

Two years ago, Chatman completed the Gate River Run. She was able to navigate the winding 15-kilometer (9.3-mile) course with the help of her husband, Leonard, who retired from the Navy in 1996. They finished the race in 2 hours, 20 minutes, using -- by Leonard's calculations -- 23,397 steps. As she climbed the Hart Bridge, Chatman, a member of Sweetwater Church of Christ, sang I Will Move Up Higher.

Cheryl now wants to take part in the MS150 Bike Tour, a 150-mile fund-raising bike ride from the World Golf Village to Daytona Beach and back. It will be Sept. 20-21.

As with the River Run, she's relying on her husband to serve as her eyes during the event and during training. They've bought a tandem bicycle and embarked on a training schedule that each week involves four rides of at least 15 miles, plus three weekly workouts in a gym.

Leonard dubbed their bike "the cycle of love." He said learning to ride together is "improving our marriage."

Not that the course of true love is always smooth.

"If I don't feel like riding, she gets a little attitude," Leonard said.

Cheryl grinned and nodded. "I kick his butt."

Staff writer Charlie Patton can be reached at (904) 359-4413 or

Copyright © 2003, The Florida Times-Union