Woman with autoimmune disorder rides in Spring Cycle after 9 bikeless years

Ashley Harrington (left) in the tandem bike with Turnstone Center for Children and Adults with Disabilities trainer Emilee Stemmler

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Hundreds of bikers geared up for the fifth annual Fort4Fitness Spring Cycle event. For many, it was a simple tour of the Summit City. For one woman, who was stricken by a a rare autoimmune disorder nine years ago, it was a personal milestone.

The 2016 Spring Cycle marked the first time that 28-year-old Ashley Harrington has gone biking since being diagnosed with acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM) nine years ago. ADEM is a condition where the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks its own brain tissue.

“We were devastated when she was stricken,” said Ashley’s father, Jeff Harrington. “It’s about a one-in-two million chance of somebody getting this.”

The condition stripped Ashley of her active lifestyle – one of swimming, running and biking.

“Ashley’s always been driven,” her father said. “She was an athlete. She was an honors student. She’s always had to work hard for everything’s she’s done in life and she just continues that.”

That drive never went away. Ashley works out three days a week at the Turnstone Center for Children and Adults with Disabilities. While she often rides a stationary bike there for therapy, a two-person outdoor bike recently donated to the center caught her eye.

“It’s perfect because she can pedal, too, and I can pedal but if she needs help on steering and braking I can control that,” said Ashley’s Turnstone Center trainer, Emilee Stemmler.

Ashley Harrington (left) in the tandem bike with Turnstone Center for Children and Adults with Disabilities trainer Emilee Stemmler
Ashley Harrington (left) in the tandem bike with Turnstone Center for Children and Adults with Disabilities trainer Emilee Stemmler

It was about a week ago when the two tried out the tandem bike. Then, they came up with the idea to ride in the Spring Cycle event.

“I think she’s pretty excited,” Stemmler said of Ashley. “Her smile says it all.”

The two-woman team rode in the event’s 10-mile tour. Ashley’s dad said he’d be “floating in air” watching her ride.

“For nine years, Ashley’s been fighting in recovery so this is going to be symbolic of nine years of effort that Ashley’s put in,” he said. “I’ve got so much emotion just bottled up that when she gets across that starting line, I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

 WANE-TV was a proud sponsor of the Spring Cycle.

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