116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
TROY MILLS — The scale is back in the closet.
Once the source of so much anxiety, it no longer is necessary.
Meghan Wheatley has regained her weight, her muscle.
“Everybody goes through stuff in their life,” said her father, Brian Wheatley. “Families go through hard times.
“This was our turn.”
A 15-year-old sophomore at North Linn, Meghan will compete at the state cross country championships this weekend at Lakeside Golf Course near Fort Dodge. She’ll be among more than 100 competitors in the Class 1A girls’ race, scheduled to begin at 2:30 Saturday afternoon.
A good race could land her in the top 10. Just making it to the starting line, that’s an achievement.
This time last year, Meghan was sliding down a physical and emotional spiral. Preliminarily diagnosed with anorexia, the correct terminology was Avoidance Restrictive Food Intake Disorder.
“I thought if she came out of it, she would be a stronger person,” said her mother, Melissa Wheatley. “We just weren’t sure she’d come out of it.”
But what was “it?”
Unlike anorexia, ARFID does not include having a distorted body image or being preoccupied with body image. The root cause of Meghan’s bout began last October, when she began to complain of digestive issues.
Or to be more blunt, as Meghan said: “I couldn’t poop.”
Another trigger was how her freshman cross country season ended prematurely.
Shortly before the 2020 Tri-Rivers Conference meet, a member of North Linn’s team tested positive for COVID-19. As a result, the entire team was placed under quarantine for 14 days.
No conference meet. No regional meet. No state meet. Season over.
“Meghan was very sad,” North Linn cross country coach Bob Mudd said. “She cried and cried.
“Then stomach issues took her further and she spiraled downhill.”
Because of her gastrointestinal issues, Meghan didn’t feel hungry. So she ate sparingly, only from a suggested foods list given to her by a specialist.
“I just told myself I wasn’t hungry,” she said.
Her first medical visit was in late October. As fall turned into winter, visits became more frequent, and more frantic.
Brian and Melissa both are teachers at North Linn. Other staff members, and other parents, would mention that Meghan seemed distant, or just “off.”
“I was emailed by one teacher and visited by another commenting on her lack of involvement and difference in demeanor,” Melissa said. “Meghan was an active, bubbly, outgoing, social and intelligent student, but things had begun to change.”
Through December and January, according to Melissa, Meghan’s attitude and demeanor worsened.
“She couldn’t reason. She had difficulty putting together thoughts,” Melissa said. “Her body was in survival mode, using any nutrition to power the larger organs and taking it away from other parts of her body.”
Meghan was weak, tired, sluggish. Nobody was aware of her weight loss, because winter was sweatshirt and sweatpants season, and because the family didn’t own a scale.
“I noticed when she was sitting next to Brian, and she looked very skeletal in her (basketball) uniform,” Melissa said.
The Wheatleys noted a few people that were invaluable in Meghan’s journey. One was Sara Neff, a pediatric nurse practitioner from Cedar Rapids.
“She was divine intervention that we met Sara that day,” Melissa said. “I couldn’t have asked for somebody better on our team.”
Another was Ellen (Ries) Davis, the former North Linn track star and now a dietitian, specializing in athletes’ nutritional programming.
Meghan’s first Zoom meeting with Davis didn’t go well. Meghan said little and made no eye contact. But Davis stuck with her.
Meanwhile, Meghan’s weight continued to slide. At 5-foot-2 or so, she weighed 95 pounds during cross country season.
At her low mark, on March 9, she was down to 72. Her BMI had dropped below the chart, and she was in danger of significant health issues.
That was the day she was admitted, by Neff, to the pediatric ward of Mercy Medical Center.
That’s where she stayed for two weeks, closely monitored. And that’s where the turnaround began.
She was discharged, back up to 86 pounds, March 23. No activity was permitted, and daily weight checks were reported. The daily nutrition log required three meals, three snacks and three protein drinks.
By May, she returned to school.
So what triggered Meghan’s recovery?
“Weightlifting,” she said. “You can’t build muscle without food and that helped get my appetite back.”
By mid-June, cardio was reintroduced in 30-minute segments as part of a 10-week return-to-run program by physical therapists at Kepros Physical Therapy.
First, it was run a minute, walk five minutes. Then run two minutes, walk four. And so forth.
The goal, in Meghan’s mind, was to return for cross country season. And when camp began in early August, she was ready.
“I didn’t care what anybody else said. I was going to run,” she said.
Today, Meghan is nearly 5-3 and weighed more than 100 pounds before the scale got put away for good. She does a lot of the cooking in the house — “I love making salmon, brown rice and sauteed veggies,” she said.
And she’s in the best running shape her life. At last week’s 1A regional meet at Iowa City, she finished in 19:51, winning by more than a minute.
“If you didn’t know what happened to her, you’d never suspect anything,” Mudd said. “She’s back to old Meghan.
“She’s talented, and she’s gritty beyond imagination. She’s a ferocious competitor. You watch her run, and you can see that she’s outworking everybody by the way she’s breathing.”
In an interview Monday, Meghan wore a necklace with an “infinity” symbol: “To me, there are no limits on what you can do.”
And what you can endure.
“You know, I’m glad this happened,” she said.
“It helped me realize how many people are in my corner,” she said. “It helped me become a better runner, how to monitor my body, make sure I’m eating the right amount of food.”
At 2:30 Saturday afternoon, the gun will go off and more than 100 girls will sprint away from the starting line. All have unique stories.
Meghan Wheatley has hers.
As for a goal, she didn’t mention a time or a place. Instead:
“I want to leave the race knowing I couldn’t have done better,” she said. “I want to say I couldn’t have tried harder, that I left it all out there.”