Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.
Her whole life, Karen Hill Meyer struggled to keep up. Physical activities left her exhausted and breathless, and she got winded simply from walking up a flight of stairs. And her diet of fried foods and late-night carbs certainly wasn’t helping.
When she got to college, Meyer added blacking out to her list of symptoms and was eventually misdiagnosed with an anxiety disorder. However, at age 25 when she was taken to the ER after another blackout, her condition was apparent. “My resting heart rate was over 250 beats per minute,” Meyer recalls. “That’s when I learned I had a congenital heart defect.”
The defect was corrected with a catheter ablation, but Meyer continued to suffer from health problems. Finally, Meyer was diagnosed with dysautonomia, an unrelated condition that causes chronic heart problems such as fainting and high resting heart rate. She was put on medication to control the symptoms and finally had a chance at a normal life.
Getting Her First Wind
Meyer was advised not to drive on her new medications, and so began walking the 2 miles to and from work each day. “At first, I was nervous,” she admits, explaining that the doctor said she could pass out without warning at any time. “It was tough and I didn’t feel well, but I wasn’t giving up. I committed to my walk and did it in the light, in the dark and sometimes in the rain.”
Soon, Meyer started feeling better and began going to the gym. She used the stationary bike and the treadmill, and when she felt strong enough, she enrolled in a Zumba class with friends. Next, she upped the ante by hiring a personal trainer, though she often had to stop and rest, but a year later, she was healthier than ever and was able to run 2 miles without stopping.
She also changed up her diet and planned her nutrition to suit her workout schedule and energy needs. She began to eat salads and lighter meals, and when she noticed an uptick in mood and energy, she adopted this way of eating as a lifestyle.
A World of Possibilities
Buoyed by her newfound freedom and mobility, Meyer began running 5Ks and playing kickball and tennis, and she even bought a road bike to participate in a charity ride supporting children with heart disease. In 2015, Meyer decided she wanted to pay it forward and opened First Wind Cycling & Fitness, a studio designed to help people fall in love with fitness no matter what their level, body type or internal battles.
“My mom helped decide on the name,” she says. “She said that I was on my first wind, not my second: I found my first wind after my treatment, and it will be a while before I even need to look for my second wind. But for now, I am leading a life I never thought possible.”
Karen Hill Meyer
Charlotte, North Carolina
Pant size before: 8
Pant size after: 2
Occupation: Owner First Wind Cycling & Fitness; cycling, barre and lifting instructor.
Mantra: People have always told me that I can’t do things because of my condition. But all along, under my breath, I have been saying, ‘Actually, I can.’
Advice: Pay attention to how far you’ve come, not how far you have to go.
Meal: Brown rice + any protein + any veggie + tomato sauce for some flavor. Toss it all in a bowl and enjoy!