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Young arthritis sufferer sees 700-mile bike trip as message


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Strong headwinds, violent rainstorms and construction detours made for a long day of bicycling Sunday.

Bethany Catlin was in the first full day of her plan to bicycle to Minnesota. After a relatively simple send-off, the enormity of what she was trying to do came into focus.

But overcoming obstacles is something Catlin relishes.

The Franklin teen has been dealing with juvenile arthritis for the past five years. Joint pain hasn’t prevented her from playing the marimba and piano, performing in the marching band and cycling.

To help raise awareness and money for juvenile arthritis research, Catlin is spending a week traveling more than 700 miles. She is being escorted by her father, Dan, who will provide mechanical help and a guide as they make their way to Minneapolis.

Bethany Catlin refuses to let juvenile arthritis limit her life. She hopes her bicycle trip will serve as an example to other juvenile arthritis patients.

“Why should I have to deal with this stupid disease and let it limit what I want to do and stop me from reaching my full potential,” she said. “This trip is a battle against this and a way to show other kids with arthritis that it doesn’t have to be something to rule your life.”

Catlin discovered she had juvenile arthritis on her 12th birthday. Her finger had become swollen and inflexible, but doctors were unable to figure out what was causing the pain.

After seeing a rheumatologist, who specializes in diseases of the joints, muscles and bones, arthritis was determined to be the cause. She said she was well aware she was being diagnosed with a disease associated with older adults.

With anti-inflammatory medication, Catlin can control the disease. She is able to perform on the marimba in the Franklin marching band and tries not to let it prevent her from doing the activities she loves.

“Arthritis is something I need to be a little bit afraid of because I don’t want to do permanent damage to my joints,” she said. “I don’t want to overreach myself. To me, that’s almost more motivation to do something like this.”

An ‘epic adventure’

The idea for a long bicycle trip was born in the waning days of her junior year at Franklin Community High School. In the shuffle of deciding where to go to college, Catlin felt the need to take what she called an “epic adventure.”

“Sometimes, it’s awfully hard to understand the world from the perspective as a teenager in America who goes to public school and basically has most things thought out for them,” she said. “This is something that steps outside of the scope of what is easy and what is known.”

From the start, her parents, Dan and Tauria Catlin, were supportive. Dan Catlin is an avid cyclist who wanted to lend her the logistical support she needed. He could help her fix flat tires and other mechanical issues, be safe on sometimes busy highways and find hotels to sleep at for the night.

“If there are kids out there who are suffering, and they meet her, maybe they’re inspired to not let what’s ailing them get them down. That’s a win for us,” Dan Catlin said.

The Catlin family regularly goes for leisurely bicycle rides, but this would be the most intensive trip that Bethany Catlin has ever taken.

To get ready, her father set a series of weekly riding goals to reach. Training has lasted all summer.

She had to reach 100 miles, then she had to be able to do two 60-mile rides back-to-back. Bethany Catlin also completed the Ride Across Indiana, a 160-mile trek through the middle of the state, in July. During a family trip to Michigan, she completed daily rides of more than 40 miles through the forests along Lake Michigan.

‘It kind of blew up’

They planned the Minnesota trip as an extended college visitation. Their route would take them from downtown Franklin to the University of Indianapolis and Butler University. She will see Valparaiso University and the University of Chicago. The ride concludes at Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

“If we were going to be doing this trip to Minnesota, we thought it would be a good idea to see some colleges on the way,” she said.

Since the start of the trip, Bethany Catlin has kept a blog and hoped that word-of-mouth would help draw attention. She wanted to use the ride as a way to raise money for the Arthritis National Research Foundation.

But as her departure date approached, the ride received more and more interest, as well as donations. The campaign has raised more than $2,000.

“All of the sudden, it kind of blew up. I’ve been trying not to brag about it, but people from all over are asking about it,” Bethany Catlin said.

As they left Franklin on Saturday morning, they carried only light bags filled with three sets of jerseys and bike shorts. Easy-to-eat snacks were included for late-day energy boosts, and sweatpants and T-shirts for after the day’s ride is over.

Arrival set for Sunday

The trip will take her through Indiana cornfields, the bustle of Chicago and the forests and lakes of Wisconsin. They have planned to follow bike trails and back roads in order to stay off as many busy streets and highways as possible.

The plan is to arrive in Minneapolis on Sunday, where Tauria Catlin and Bethany’s little sister, Zoe, will meet them. They’ll drive home, getting back in Franklin the day before Bethany Catlin starts her senior year.

As the first few days of the ride have taught Bethany Catlin, the route will come with its unexpected delays, sore muscles and setbacks.

But she’s determined to finish and hopes that her ride will motivate others to take their own adventure.

“Maybe someone else realizes they want to do some epic trip,” she said. “I just hope that people can find inspiration and comfort that no disease gets to control you. If you decide you want to do something, you can do it.”

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