The Angry Athlete

Codi McCorkle was diagnosed with Lyme disease in 2008 after a lifelong battle with chronic pain and discomfort.

Photo courtesy of Codi McCorkle

Elite athletes are notoriously stubborn people. Doug Collins, Michael Jordan’s first coach with the Chicago Bulls, described Jordan’s unwillingness to put up with teammates who couldn’t match his tenacity and intellect on the basketball court. During play, he’d simply meet the eyes of his coach, and grimace in the direction of the offending Bull as a warning that Collins should get him off the court before Jordan removed him forcefully. 

Bo Jackson practically begged people to doubt him so he could prove them wrong; nevermind that he was an otherworldly combination of Olympic sprinter in a linebacker’s body with a nasty disposition. 

Codi McCorkle is driven by the same stubborn focus with a very different fuel – anger. Anger that is similarly contrived and equally effective. She has to go back many years to understand it herself.

“Just Get Through the Day”

Codi McCorkle grew up in Lampasas, Texas in a family that ate, breathed and slept sports.  Her brothers were football, track, and baseball stars, and her sister was a basketball standout. Her own love of basketball led her to Sul Ross State University where she discovered another gift courtesy of a perceptive athletic trainer—running. In fact, she was so good at it that she placed in the top ten of her first collegiate cross country race without practicing. 

All of that would be impressive on its own but consider this: since she could remember, she had been lethargic, had joint pains, and regularly had bouts with fever, seizures, and stabbing pains with no medical answer. The symptoms had even once been diagnosed as psychological.  She had performed at a high level for as long as she could remember while convincing herself to “just get through the day” every day. 

She had been misdiagnosed so often that she’d given up hope of ever feeling better until she passed out at just the right place at just the right time in 2008.

The Start of Something

While running an animal shelter in 2008, Codi passed out in a field and was tested for Lyme disease. The test came back positive, and she began taking medication but the disease had taken root in her body many years earlier. While relieved to finally have a diagnosis, the stabbing pains and bouts of passing out remained. The disease had remained untreated for so long that it had caused neurological, cardiovascular, and digestive system damage in her body. 

After she and her husband Michael welcomed their first child, daughter Hadlee, in 2011, she still experienced the pain, insomnia, and passing out during the night. It was then that they decided to see a heart specialist so the unpredictable dangers that accompanied her disease would not be shared by Hadlee.

“Your Limits Are What You Think They Are”

Dr. Elissa Thompson is known by patients, their families, and even readers of AFM as someone who makes people better, not simply by treating their medical needs but also by equipping and challenging them mentally and emotionally. 
The damage that had been inflicted on Codi’s body by the years of Lyme Disease required a specialist who could see a larger picture. Her heart rate would diminish to the point (less than 20 BPM) where involuntary actions like breathing became work. Dr. Thompson recognized that medication was only part of what was needed.

Codi needed not just the pacemaker she had voluntarily installed on May 28, 2013, she needed her limits defined so she could push herself to them. After all, she had competed in and completed a Tough Mudder in October 2012 in just over six hours with minimal energy and endurance. She needed Dr. Thompson to set a ceiling for her so she could just finish. With the physical treatment in place, the good doctor pushed her off the ledge emotionally in typical fashion. 

“Your limits are what you think they are,” she said. 

Equipped with a new pacemaker and attitude, Codi registered for the aptly named Spartan Beast with no buildup. She still has no explanation for why but she entered in the Elite Division and implausibly, came in sixth place on the frigid and wet December day.  Now months later, she is still competing and still defying the odds. She is still angry that poor spear throws cost her a place on the podium this past May at Super Spartan. 

Oh yes, the anger that fuels her, it’s not from the pain and misdiagnoses all of those years.  The anger derives from her own perception that she might somehow be limited by her condition or worse, that somebody will make excuses for her. It makes her visibly angry. In fact, she reluctantly agreed to talk about her condition when she realized that others might be inspired. She is angry and that is bad news for competitors. Her limits are what she thinks they are — gone.

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