I recently spent a few minutes with Deb Merritt, who is part of our current Project 13 group training for the Dallas Marathon and Half. Project 13 is a division of Meat Fight, a nonprofit out of Dallas with the goal of raising money to help fund bikes for those living with Multiple Sclerosis. In addition to giving bikes (so they can train for a Bike MS event), we also aim to fully support them in training for a marathon, half marathon and/or half Ironman. The goal of what we call Meat Fight Endurance Labs is to break down barriers for people living with MS, and help support them to compete in epic endurance events. Suffice to say, Deb fits this mold! 

Kelly: Deb! Tell me a bit about you. Background, where you live, what brought you to running, favorite color; things of this nature.

Deb: I am 54 years old and live in Van Wert, Ohio. I’m a wife, mom and a grandma. I’m an RVIA Certified RV technician who specializes in Highline Diesel Pusher motorhomes. In 2003, I was diagnosed with relapsing multiple sclerosis. At that time, I was ~260 lbs. Along with my MS journey, I decided I needed to get healthy and running was near to my heart because I had a daughter who was a cross country runner. I always wanted to run with her, but I was too heavy to do that. But, I made the decision to get myself physically fit through running. I enjoy anything athletic, including training others at the gym & bicycling.  My Husband Jon & I enjoy sports and riding our Harleys.

Kelly: Awesome. From what I’ve learned of you the past few months, you don’t sit still too well.

Deb: When I was diagnosed with MS, I realized many of the things I loved and held dear could go away. So I try to live every day to do everything I can in case tomorrow is that day. I try to be fearless and live by the idea that I wake up each day and say “what else can I do today?”.

Kelly: So great. Your attitude seems to be contagious, not only when talking to you but also speaking to others who have met you as well. So I’m fascinated by the RV biz you are in. Are you in the minority being a female who can wrench these big ass RVs? How did you get into this?

Deb: I try to be contagious! Ha! I draw inspiration from people around me. Together everyone is stronger and I’m very blessed to have a group of friends that don’t treat me differently because I have MS. As for my work, I would like to believe that being an RVIA certified technician for motorhomes makes me a rarity and yes, I’ve not met other women who do this. I feel blessed that I’ve made this my career for the past 26 years. I’m a Motorhead as I grew up in the garage, then I started working in the factory. My competitive nature found me trying to be the girl in the group of boys!

Kelly: Motorhead Deb. I like it.

Deb: I’ve been called lots of things! Diesel Mechanic Barbie; that was one of my favorites. My dad was a truck driver and only home on the weekends so if I wanted to be around my dad, I had to do the things dads did and that entailed hanging out in the garage! My brother is an amazing mechanic who builds custom Harley-Davidsons and can wrench on anything.

Kelly: You told me of a kind of badass story related to your weight loss. Do you care to tell about this? I think shows a lot about your character…

Deb: I have lost 119 lbs; at my heaviest, I was 267. I had to do something, as I felt like I had given up on being healthy. When I was diagnosed with MS, at first I sat around waiting on all the bad things everyone said was going to happen; I used it as a crutch. Then I realized those things didn’t have to happen. I didn’t like the sick girl that I had become, so I decided I better get my butt off the couch and get back to being who I was. When I started I could barely walk around the block without being winded but I worked my way up to doing a Zumba class, then I did a 5k with my daughter. I finished it and I wasn’t last. I was 65th out of 66! Then that competitive voice inside of me woke up and I said “Well  if I can run a 5k then I can run a 10k” and the rest is history. Along the way, I’ve also changed my diet and I continue to do strength training, HIIT classes and spin classes. My husband stuck around after my diagnosis; he liked me at 267 lbs but he married a blonde chick in a bikini on the beach in 1996! He deserved the girl he married and it took a lot of hard work to get back to her, but the running helped me do that.

Kelly: Do you have any reach goals with your running? Pie in the Sky goals?

Deb: There are so many amazing races that I’d love to do. I think every runner or cyclist would love to do an Ironman but I’m not big on swimming. I think the biggest thing I look forward to is running with my grandson. He is 3 right now but someday he will do races with his Grammy and that will be running heaven for me. He already likes races in his stroller with me pushing, so we’re on our way! I ran my first race with my daughter (his mom). I look forward to running with him.

Kelly: I’d say the goal of running with your grandson is a pretty solid goal. Deb – what motivates you? Besides bourbon. When it gets hard, when you really want to achieve a time goal, win a 5k; what makes you dig deeper?

Deb: I’m kind of crazy; I find motivation in the weirdest things. I think when you’re given a diagnosis like MS or similar that affects your body, you realize that something can be taken away from you and you have no control over it. It changes your mindset. I’m like everyone else in that if you’re running beside me, I want to beat you and that’s just my nature! When I need to dig deep, I remember that I have something to prove. I’m the only one who gets to decide how MS will affect my life. When I’m racing, it feels like I am out-running it. I’m pretty confident, at times maybe too confident…ha! But, I believe I can do anything. If there is one thing I know it’s that I’ll never quit.

Kelly: Great outlook my friend. OK so let’s wrap with something fun. Back to bourbon. Favorites? I know you Will Run for Bourbon (Deb just finished the Bourban Burn 3 day bike ride).

Deb: I hope that doesn’t sound too sappy! I really would trip my own mom to win a race!

Kelly: Ha! Classic line. “I’d trip my own mom to win a race.”

Deb: Bourbon – yes! Bling, just about any reason to get out there and have fun. What good is life if it’s not fun? I’m very blessed to have a wonderful life and family. I just like to do things that others may think is weird. I like to push my limits and help others around me do the same. And I’m the friend you would call if you’re in jail, or you need a really cool race to do. Ha!

Kelly: Sweet, I’ll remember that next time I’m in jail.  

Deb: Let’s hope that’s not in Dallas. They’re pretty serious about the law down there!

Kelly: OK one more time. Favorite bourbon? This is very important.

Deb: I’m a Wild Turkey girl. Wild Turkey Rare Breed kind of fits, don’t you think?

Kelly: Perfectly. Thanks for your time, Motorhead Deb!