BISMARCK, N.D. - As hundreds of runners at the Bismarck Marathon crossed the finish line this weekend with an overwhelming sense of accomplishment, one of them had that winning feeling before she even started her half marathon race.
Mandy B. Anderson has lived with a Cystic Fibrosis diagnosis since she was six months old. Competing this weekend was a feat her doctors could have never foreseen and one Mandy, herself, couldn't have imagined. Through her battles with the genetic disease, she shares what her journey back to health has taught her and those cheering her on.
Mandy lined up at the start line looking back on the last decade of her life.
"Like seven years ago, you didn't even think you could crawl and you could. And now, you're running. So, I'm going to keep telling myself I can. And that's going to make the difference," she said to herself before the start.
Mandy has always known a strict regime of medication and breathing treatments to tame a genetic disease that clogged her lungs and obstructed her digestive system with mucus. Cystic Fibrosis can be deadly. Patients tend to have a shorter life span. Several years ago, Mandy decided to stop her medications and treatments. Instead, she leaned hard into her faith and prayed for a miracle to heal her.
Over a course of months, her body deteriorated.
"I ended up in the hospital on May 22nd of 2012, for 22 days at 22-percent lung function, weighing 92 pounds and literally fighting for my life," she said.
Mandy had developed Cystic Fibrosis-related Diabetes and faced the possibility of a lung transplant and feeding tube.
Looking back on pictures during that time, she can hardly recognize the woman she was.
"It was really grey, sunken in cheeks. My eyes had no spark left to them and I remember saying to myself, Mandy, this not how your story ends."
Mandy discovered she would get the miracle she was looking for by combining her strong faith in God with her medications, treatments, and healthy lifestyle choices. She started running, found a coach, and set her goal.
On Saturday, she put one foot in front of the other 13.1 miles.
"I think, if I would have given up hope at that point, I wouldn't be here," she said.
The longest distance she'd ever attempted, Mandy was blazing a trail for others to follow.
Her friend, Raychel Perman, had seen Mandy through the worst of her health struggles. She had been there to help carry Mandy when she couldn't walk.
"I don't think I would be here today with my own things I've had to overcome, if not for watching her overcome her constant health issues and beating all the things people said she couldn't do. You can't not be inspired," Raychel said.
Mandy says this journey has taught her strength is gained not in spite of her illness, but because of it. And, at every mile she's proving she's not stopping now.
"She inspires people every single day and I get to see that," Nate Anderson, Mandy's husband, said. "That's great."
Mandy has built her lung function up as high as 80-percent since her hospitalization. Her doctors are astounded she accomplished that without a lung transplant.
She says her victory at the half marathon, "would not mean as much to me had I not experienced the worst of this disease and lived to tell about it. God did heal me. He just used medicine. And I have my health restored in ways I never dreamed of."