Larry LaRue: The force of nature that is Kimmy Watters

Despite limited mobility, she works out 5 days a week, advocates for muscular dystrophy

Staff writerJune 11, 2014 

It was a difficult delivery — one Maggie Watters says should have been a cesarean section but wasn’t — and baby Kimberly was taken away from her mother for several days immediately after birth.

“There were a lot of issues — hip dysplasia, a lack of oxygen to the brain, one leg was shorter than the other,” Watters said.

There were more issues awaiting the child. Years of surgeries — 10 of them between 6 months of age and her 28th birthday. She didn’t hear well out of one ear. She was dyslexic. Walking was always a problem.

“One thing though, I never put Kimmy in a corner,” Watters said.

It is hard to imagine anyone putting Kimmy in a corner today.

Now 43, she’s a high-octane, all-energy presence at the Morgan Family YMCA in Tacoma, a force of nature who uses a walker.

“I was reluctant when I joined the Y in 2001,” Kimmy said. “I’d never worked out, never exercised, and I was 50 pounds overweight.

“When I started coming, I met people every day who were happy to be here. The staff encouraged me. No one talked down to me or belittled me if I couldn’t do something. They appreciated my effort.”

As for that laundry list of ailments?

“She never complains,” her mother said. “She wakes up every morning singing — literally, singing — and at 7 a.m. brings me a cup of tea.”

Kimmy roamed the Internet at night and knew there were others in the world with worse conditions than hers.

In 2010, she met one.

Micah Hester was 8 years old, suffering from Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a genetic disorder that strikes young boys. For years, few survived their teens. Inevitably, their lungs and heart simply lost the strength to function.

Today, Duchenne patients can live into their 20s or beyond. It is not, however, a good life.

“I can’t tell you how much I hate this disease,” said Janelle Hester, Micah’s mother. “Micah is in a wheelchair now. He’s declining in certain ways, losing the strength in his arms.”

Meeting Micah changed Kimmy’s life.

“I look at Micah, at what a great kid he is and what he’s facing, and think, ‘What have I got to complain about?’” she said.

“After I met Micah, I saw all the things I can do, and thought I could do more.”

There are a number of organizations fighting Duchenne, the most prominent being Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy: End Duchenne.

It’s a long title, and if you can’t remember it, show up at Kimmy’s YMCA some morning. She works out there five days a week — in a bright T-shirt with the website information emblazoned on front and back.

“She has a huge heart, she’s a sweet person,” Janelle Hester said. “She’s walked half marathons to raise money for a cure, she’s donated things to auctions, gotten others involved.”

Mary Senecal, an oncology nurse turned personal trainer, was hired by Kimmy and her mother to work with Kimmy. It wound up being more than a working relationship.

“Kimmy knows how to push my buttons,” Senecal said, laughing. “She has a way of working people I’ve never seen before. She’s not afraid to ask anyone for anything. It’s not done with sense of entitlement, either.

“She’s pretty darned funny.”

When Kimmy decided to try a half marathon, she enlisted Senecal and her oncologist husband, Frank, to come along.

“Kimmy would go as far as she could in her walker, then use her wheelchair,” Mary Senecal said. “One of us would push her in the wheelchair while the other pushed her walker. After we’d done two of those rock and roll marathons, I told her, ‘That’s it.’”

Since meeting Micah, Kimmy has lost 30 pounds, won swimming medals in the Special Olympics and raised money to help end Duchenne. And she’s gotten more than she might have expected.

“My self-confidence has grown, my self-esteem,” she said. “Because of my mom, I got a chance to live, and I’d like to help Micah and all the boys like him get that chance.

“My life is not just about me. It’s about what I do.”

Larry LaRue: 253-597-8638

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