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Virginia trainer pushes physical limits to help orphans

August 26, 2018

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (AP) — As she pumped the bike’s pedals in stifling mid-August heat, something was bothering Ashley Horner.

It wasn’t the fact that she had gotten sick the day before, on the third day of a venture to do 50 triathlons in 50 days. She felt great after blasting through the morning swim and was keeping a good rhythm as she neared the end of the 112-mile bike ride.

Still, there was a nagging feeling.

A text from the founder of the Maison Fortuné Orphanage in Haiti helped her figure it out.

“He said to think about how much more the kids need me than how much I need to finish triathlons,” Horner said Monday. “I mean, that’s why I was doing this, to raise money for them.”

Maison Fortuné founder Lefort Jean-Louis had been following Horner’s effort to help raise at least $100,000 for his orphanage and was worried about the 34-year-old after seeing reports that she had gone to the emergency. She was a member of the family and has been one of its top fundraisers.

Thinking a little more clearly, Horner realized she also was upset with herself that she had not followed the advice of her coach, Alex Viada, who had told her that morning she should stop, go home and reevaluate the journey.

“He had told me after the swim that he would always support me, but that he couldn’t support me as a coach,” Horner said. “I had listened to him during six months of training and had followed what he told me to the letter. I promised him I would continue to do that. But now he wasn’t going to be there with me the rest of the way.

“I just had this heavy-heartedness.”

So she and the rest of her team packed up the van and returned home late Saturday night, waking up Sunday to think about the future of the endeavor. On Monday she got more blood work performed.

No stranger to endurance athletics, Horner found out in a very short time that triathlons are no joke. Swimming 2.4 miles, following with a 112-mile bike ride and topping it off with a 26.2-mile test the body and mind like few other challenges.

Doing 50 of them in 50 days? Only one person has ever been able to pull it off.

But despite the fact that she’d never completed a sanctioned Ironman event, Horner still figured she was up to the challenge. ... But things caught up with her shortly into the cycling portion of the Dover, Delaware stop.

“My stomach had been upset the night before and I couldn’t eat or drink much,” Horner said. “I got off the bike and just started puking everything up. Food, hydration, I must have puked four or five times. Physically I felt fine the next morning in Dover, but I could tell I felt different.”

Not sure what was wrong, Horner thought back to the mental aspect of training, like the first day in California with Viada. He had purposely made sure there would be problems with her bike during a 12-mile climb up the Palomar Mountain Range to see how she handled adversity. She finished the ride on flat, recreational style pedals while wearing only socks. Viada said what she did was nothing shy of amazing and proved her grit and determination to overcome.

“Alex had told me that there would be mental ups and downs during this. Things that would make me doubt myself. So I figured I would just get up and get out of the funk and keep going,” she said. “It was the only way to find out if it was mental or was I really not feeling good.”

...

After getting sick, a trip to an urgent care center ended up in the emergency room, where she was given IV fluids and told to take the rest of the day off. It was determined that she had hyponatremia — a salt deficiency that can cause serious health problems.

“But I started to feel back to normal and was able to keep stuff down,” she said. “After the swim the next day I felt amazing.”

Horner said her admitted stubborness got the best of her.

“Flying home from Haiti and getting ready for the Virginia Beach start isn’t taking care of yourself,” she said. “It’s 100 percent my responsibility to take care of myself.”

Diehard triathletes were critical of Horner’s attempt prior to her start and their rhetoric really ramped up after Friday.

...

James Lawrence does and wants to help. The Utah athlete holds the Guinness World Record for doing 30 Ironman events in one year and is the only person to successfully complete a 50-in-50. He reached out to Horner on Sunday after talking to Viada on the phone. He started the social media hashtag #respectthedistance.

“After I set the world record I trained for two-and-a-half years to prepare for 50-50,” said Lawrence, who started Team Iron Cowboy, a training company specializing in long-distance events. “I want to help her succeed and raise lots of money for the orphanage. Alex seems like a good guy and he told me he would counsel her to let us train her.

“She simply doesn’t have the right tools right now.”

She does still have the desire and drive, though.

Horner once rode her bike from Virginia Beach to Oklahoma City, a distance of 1,300 miles in 13 days, to raise money for St. Jude Children’s Hospital. Last year she raised $90,000 for the orphanage by running the border of Haiti, a trek of 230 miles.

She’s a mother of three boys and has posted several times on social media that she is “a single mother who once couldn’t pay her rent but is now a millionaire.” She’s turned success as a fitness model into a business that includes her own gym in Virginia Beach and a cafe-bar — American Brew — on Shore Drive. She has published several books about fitness and training, and travels the country participating in training events and fitness festivals.

Through it all, it’s been her relationship with the Haitian orphanage that she said matters most.

“During her time spent with us in Haiti, Ashley has seen firsthand that not all acts of aid work,” said foundation executive director Mary Kwasniewski. “She has witnessed unfinished buildings, health clinics built but not staffed and unsolicited supplies piled in warehouses. She has also seen projects that succeed and knows that local involvement is paramount to that success.

Ashley aims to walk alongside her Haitian family and help them with projects they have identified as needs.”

Horner spends time at the orphanage several times a year and takes her sons with her.

“My boys consider the kids there to be family and they treat my boys like family,” said Horner, who has her three kids’ DNA inked into three wolves that are part of an Indian-themed sleeve tattoo on her right arm. Born in Oklahoma, Horner traces her roots to the Choctaw Indian tribe. The sleeve on her left arm brags of her patriotism — a bald eagle, American flag, the Statue of Liberty,

Horner came up with the 50-50 fundraiser idea earlier this year in an effort to continue to test her limits while making money for the orphanage. She worked out with Viada for six months to prepare.

...

Horner vowed to figure out the challenge and press forward. She had to, she said, for the sake of the children in Haiti that she and her three boys have fallen in love with.

“Things like this happen,” she said. “It’s such an extreme event and there is absolutely no margin for error. I just wanted to keep pushing and maybe I just didn’t want to understand what was going on.

“But the text from Haiti kind of hit me like a bag of bricks in the face.”

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Information from: The Virginian-Pilot, http://pilotonline.com

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