Athlete conquers childhood kidney disease and her own mental and physical limits
There’s a famous quote, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” and I’m living proof that it’s true.
As a child growing up in the south of France, in Corsica—a beautiful Island just north Sardinia—my single mom did everything she could to teach me how to be a better person, healthy, active, and to give back to people who needed it.
We didn’t know that I was about to become the person who needed it.
I was active and athletic, but got frequent infections with high fevers making my eyes, my belly, and pretty much my entire body hurt. After visiting many doctors, I was diagnosed at the age of 7 with kidney disease, which changed mom’s life and mine forever.
It took some time and several more doctors to find the cause of my kidney disease—I was born with an enlarged ureter that was slowly, so very slowly, killing my kidneys. We finally met with an amazing kidney specialist in Marseille who told me he could fix my kidneys, but it would require major surgery on my ureters and bladder. My 7-year-old self understood that my future was in his hands and I agreed to have the surgery. After a couple of six-hour surgeries and months in the hospital with additional complications, I was finally out. The doctors expected a full recovery to take a few years.
I was slowly able to resume my sports and activities a few months later, but I could not be as active as I wanted. I could not sweat too much because infections could come back and mom always had to make sure I was not running a fever.
It was a great struggle to have a normal active lifestyle, but I came out of it stronger with a lot of ambition and an extremely positive outlook.
Years later, I moved to the United States to pursue my studies and to grow as a professional. Along the way, I challenged myself a few times running half marathons, Spartan races and so on. I met amazing people. One of my best friends introduced me to my first triathlon—a grueling race that involves swimming, cycling and running over long distances. He motivated me to start something new and I decided to run my first Olympic-distance triathlon in Philadelphia with him. I was hooked and I wanted to make this sport my new challenge—both mentally and physically.
After a few races I decided that I should push myself further and signed up for a 70.3 IRONMAN race! We ran this one in Cartagena, Colombia—the most challenging race I have even done. Once I crossed that finish line, I cried and realized that it was most definitely worth it! I have since completed another IRONMAN in Cophenhagen, Denmark, and I plan to continue for as long as my body will let me.
As a child I rarely talked about my kidney disease and what I was going through—I just tried to be as normal as possible. It wasn’t until many years later that I realized my experience far from normal, and that most people don’t really know very much about their kidneys at all. That’s why I use my competitions to draw attention to kidney disease, and to educate people about it.
I feel so fortunate for the great medical care I received as a child that allowed me to grow into a healthy adult and pursue my dreams. I want to inspire, represent and motivate people who undergo such difficult experiences in their lives and show them that, as Dale Cargenie said, “Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all.”
Melodie Carli is a New York-based news and documentary producer and advisor to the United Nations with a broad background in international business and diplomacy.