Straining up a steep hill, Danielle Kerr felt like throwing up with a mile left to run in the South Shore Duathlon.
Instead, she gathered herself and raced to the finish line of a dream she pursued for three years, if not a lifetime.
The 36-year-old mother of two has been hindered by cerebral palsy since birth. Her left leg, arm and hand lack the normal strength and dexterity needed for athletic pursuits, like a 14-mile duathlon, and even basics of life.
As a child, Kerr learned to tie her shoes using her right hand and her mouth.
Over the past three years, she learned to push herself to run and to bike, and to achieve goals once thought out of reach.
Danielle Kerr shows her determination in the last mile. Photo by Tom Held.
"I never thought I could do something this athletic," Kerr said after finishing her first duathlon. "In games at school, I was always picked last."
Part of the Great Lakes Duathlon Series, the race on Sunday was a memorial to Jeff Littmann, a coach and cyclist who was killed while biking in Nashotah on Oct. 1. Kerr exemplified the type of Rock 'n Ride spirit that friends say Littmann encouraged in himself and others.
"If you want something bad enough in life, make it happen," Kerr emphasized. "You can always find a way."
For her, the way included finding coaches and supporters who guided her to and through the race.
A spinning coach at the West Suburban YMCA first encouraged her to try a duathlon several years ago. Rachel Schaefer, a personal trainer at Anytime Fitness in Cudahy, pushed her through a training plan, and the South Shore Cyclery donated the bike she received just five weeks ago.
"I hadn't been on a bike for 12 years," Kerr said.
With a bit of assistance in mounting and dismounting the bike, Kerr moved solidly throughout the race: a two-mile run, a 10-mile bike section and another two-mile run.
"That last mile hurt like hell," she said. "Now, I'm hooked.
"It's a great feeling to feel empowered and strong. I like what I can do."
Kerr, who works as a personal trainer at Anytime Fitness, finished in 1:39:53, well under her goal of two hours.
Danielle Kerr makes her way through Sheridan Park to the finish of her first duathlon.
Photo by Tom Held
Tim Petrie, a teacher from Fond du Lac, won the second race in the RACC Great Lakes Duathlon Series. He crossed the finish line in 50 minutes, 30 seconds, roughly two minutes ahead of Jake Jendusa, of Hartland.
Heidi Beck, of Oconomowoc, won the women's division with a time of 58 minutes, two seconds. Anna Andrzejewska-Hill was second in 59:59.
Check out the video below for Kerr's finish.