Roxbury Olympic Hopeful's Dream of Competing in Skeleton in Russia Hampered by Serious Illness

Megan Henry in Roxbury. Photo by Laurie Gaboardi.

ROXBURY—Here’s an anonymous inspirational quote that’s bouncing around the Internet: You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.

Skeleton

It could have been written by Megan Henry, whose mother is the first selectwoman of this pretty little town that has been called home by folks as illustrious as playwright Arthur Miller and his then-wife Marilyn Monroe and artist Alexander Calder.

Ms. Henry is an Olympic hopeful in the winter sport of skeleton (i.e. tiny sled going really fast), and since 2010 she’s been competing with gold medal zeal for a spot on the 2014 U.S. Skeleton team. In March, for example, she finished first in the 2012 National Championships.

Signs of Trouble

But at the August combine—a sprint, agility and weightlifting test—in Park City, Utah, nothing felt right. She was performing in a state of near hyperventilation, and the slightest exercise left her unusually winded. Maybe it was something in the mountain air.

Actually, it was something in her lungs—a lot of something in her lungs.

“They’re still there, multiple blood clots in both lungs,” said Ms. Henry, who is now back home in Connecticut. “I went from training six days a week, sometimes twice a day, to being bedridden in Danbury Hospital.”

She’s out of the hospital and back with her parents, Barbara and Craig Henry. Per doctor’s orders, Megan Henry is on blood thinning medication and must rest her body for at least six months. Even a trip to somewhere as close as Boston is strongly discouraged, which means a flight to Russia, the host nation for the 2014 Winter Olympics, is doubtful.

Don’t tell that to Ms. Henry.

The slight 25-year-old U.S. Army Reserves soldier and graduate student has a preternatural sense of determination, one that outsizes her five-foot, three-inch frame. She has a new $10,000 skeleton sled (skeleton might also be seen as the luge belly down, face first) in her basement and she’s itching to use it.

“I think there’s still a chance,” she said, “but this makes it very hard.”

It’s difficult to isolate the most troubling part of this unjust turn of events. Having her Olympic dreams suddenly pulled out from underneath is heartbreaking. Then there’s the fact that she sought medical help in Utah, and then in Florida, and was dismissed without a full evaluation.

It wasn’t until last month, after she arrived home, that she saw a pulmonologist and underwent a CT-Scan. That’s when the blood clots were discovered.

When discussing her blood clots, Ms. Henry notes that in the beginning of August she began using NuvaRing, a third generation form of contraception. It was her first time ever on birth control.

“In recent years, serious questions have arisen concerning its safety,” stated a 2011 Marie Claire article by Laura Beil. “To date, almost 1,000 cases of possible NuvaRing-related blood clots have been reported to the FDA, and more than 700 women in the U.S. are currently suing Merck, NuvaRing’s manufacturer, for downplaying its health risks.”

In reference to that kind of information, Barbara Henry said, “When you mess with my kids you’re crossing the line.”

It’s part of the fighting spirit her daughter gets from her, unless it’s the other way around.

“The thing I’ve always admired about Megan is not only does she stand up for herself,” said Ms. Henry, “she stands up for the underdog.”

As much as Megan Henry plans to pursue the cause of her illness, she will also soldier on in pursuit of fulfilling her dreams.

“While this is very frustrating and disappointing, I have not given up hope or the desire to pursue my dreams,” she said. “This is just a detour.”

And the goal remains making sure that detour does not stop her from getting to Russia in February 2014. Or, if she can wait another four years, they say South Korea is nice in the winter.