A Triathlete’s Comeback From A Deadly Virus Is a Warning For A Warming Planet

From The Huffington Post
March 3, 2018

SAN MARCOS, Texas ― On a warm morning late last July, Chuck Yarling yanked a baby blue swim cap over his head and put down his cane. His friend Richard Blakely grasped him by the tricep and helped him hobble to the edge of Spring Lake, where he plunged feet-first into chilly water.

The race Yarling was attempting required him to swim 500 meters and then cycle 12 miles, which would have been a cinch five years earlier. Yarling, a thin, sharp-chinned 72-year-old Vietnam veteran with bright hazel eyes, completed 110 triathlons between 1983 and 2012. In his most active year, 2009, he finished 14 triathlons.

Then the largest West Nile virus epidemic in Texas history erupted in 2012, after an abnormally warm and wet winter and spring. Yarling was one of more than 1,800 people in the state infected. The mosquito-borne virus attacked his spinal cord and brain, causing excruciating pain, deafening him in one ear and temporarily paralyzing his legs.

During his long recuperation, Yarling’s once-powerful legs withered to thin sticks. His neurologist doubted he’d ever race again. Even five years later, Yarling still suffered from balance problems that caused him to wobble on his bike.

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