Wendy Larsen faces a variety of challenging genetic disorders, but grit and determination are in her blood, and with a dauntless spirit she refuses to let her disabilities define her. After losing the ability to run several years ago, Wendy discovered competitive handcycling. She’s competed in more than 50 races and represents the Chevron Houston Marathon as an ambassador.
Tell us a little bit about the rare diseases and disabilities you live with
I’m what you’d call a “medically complex patient.” I have a lot of different diseases and disabilities. The primary ones are Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS), which is a rare connective tissue disorder, and a Primary Immune Deficiency Disease (PIDD) called Common Variable Immunodeficiency Disease (CVID). CVID is a genetic disorder where the immune system doesn’t function properly, and my body can’t produce antibodies. I get sick a lot, and simple infections can become life-threatening very quickly. Every week I get infusions of antibodies from people who donate plasma, and that’s how I get my immune system.
When did you decide to become a wheelchair athlete, and why?
I made that transition about 3 years ago. I started running in 2008 after a severe car accident. I almost lost my right leg, and it took 15 surgeries to reconstruct it. They told me I would never walk again, so I decided to run a marathon! It took a year to relearn how to walk, and I did the Houston Half Marathon in 2010. But I still had EDS, which is degenerative and continued to cause more issues over the years. Three and a half years ago it got to the point where I couldn’t run at all, so I transitioned to handcycling. I had seen handcycles in races I’d done, and I had come across other wheelchair athletes online. I reached out to Achilles International Houston—they’re an organization that supports disabled athletes—and they welcomed me with open arms. They gave me the training and tools I needed to get started in the sport.
What types of competitions have you competed in?
Marathons are my favorite distance, but I’ve done everything from 5k, 10k, half-marathons, and full marathons.
Where do you train for your competitions?
Two to three days a week I’m on the trails around Magnolia Creek. We have an awesome trail system, and I can easily do 10–20 miles. That’s one of the things we love the most about where we live. The hike and bike trails are just beautiful. I also meet at Memorial Park every Saturday at 10 a.m. for workouts with the Achilles group.
What’s your message to others who are facing disabilities or life-altering diagnoses?
My main message is don’t take it lying down. Exercise and being active is the best thing you can do for your physical and mental health. Just because you’re disabled doesn’t mean you can’t workout. It’ll look different for each person, but it’s so incredibly important. It has helped me so much mentally. It’s given me focus and goals to get out there and improve my situation.
What inspires you?
The other athletes with disabilities that I workout with inspire me. We feed off each other. We see what other disabled athletes are doing, and it makes us push each other. It’s a team and we are always working hard to help each other be better.
Do you have a life motto?
“Suck it up buttercup” is something I say to myself all the time.
How many races have you competed in?
More than 50 total races.
Do you have a favorite competition experience you can tell us about?
The Chevron Houston Marathon in 2018. It was my first full marathon. I finished something I never thought would be possible for me and my doctors never thought would be possible. When you experience something like that it leaves a lasting impression on you. When I crossed the finish line I ugly cried. My husband put the medal around my neck, which made it even more special.
How can someone else become involved in wheelchair athletics?
You’re a Chevron Houston Marathon Ambassador. What does that entail?
Each year they choose 15 people to be race ambassadors, and I was selected this year. We represent the marathon for a year. We are out in the community telling people about the race. We help with different community events and are a presence in the running community to promote the race and tell our story.
What’s the story behind your colorful hair?
I’ve been doing that for 5 years, and it’s just something fun that I like to do. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve really learned to embrace doing what is going to bring joy to my life. When I look in the mirror, I don’t like seeing a sick person. So, I wear makeup all the time and I color my hair the bright colors because it makes me happy to look in the mirror and see that. It’s good for my mental health.
What do you like about living in League City?
The parks and the hike and bike trails are amazing. We go to Countryside or Challenger 7 about once a month to kayak on Clear Creek. Even though you’re still in the city you feel like you’re miles away. It’s just you and nature, and it’s just relaxing and peaceful.
What’s your favorite park in League City?
How would you describe League City?
Homey and friendly. I love League City because it’s friendly and has everything you need from a major city, but you’re surrounded by parks and trails and nature.
What are you looking forward to in 2020?
The Chevron Houston Marathon, and hopefully either the Chicago Marathon or the New York City Marathon.