August 27, 2001
No time to sit still
By Eric Rangus firstname.lastname@example.org
Although shed competed many times previously, she hadnt
planned on it this year. None of her friends were running; her children
werent either. In fact, she wouldnt even have bothered had
Emory track coach John Curtin not given the Emory physical education instructor
an extra number to wear earlier in the week.
For a while, her run was routine. Uninteresting, even. Until she heard
the cries for help at about the 8km mark.
A man was down. An older man. He wasnt breathing. He needed a doctor.
Or a nurse. Someone who could help. Chelko rushed through the small crowd
surrounding him and kneeled his side. She said she wasnt a nurse,
but she knew CPR and rescue breathing. Immediately a painful memory flashed
through her mind. Not again.
Last Christmas, Chelkos brother Ronnie, who was autistic, suffered
a heart attack at their mothers house. Chelko and her sons Justin
and Stephen were the first to reach him. But they couldnt revive
him. Not again.
You are not going to die, she thought as she kneeled next
to 58-year-old Don Plunkett, who was having a heart attack. He was struggling
to breathe. Chelko turned him over, and he started to vomit. His teeth
clenched. His tongue swelled. His breathing stopped, then his heart.
More help arrived on the scene. Lee Davis, an anesthesiologist at Northside
Hospital, stopped and began CPR. Another doctor, a cardiologist, started
chest compression. Chelko forced her fingers into Plunketts mouth,
fighting to open it. A group of runners and onlookers gathered nearby
An ambulance soon roared up. Plunkett was unresponsive and turning blue.
The paramedics rushed to defibrillate. One shock, nothing. Two shocks,
no. Three. Four. Finally, a pulse. The paramedics stabilized Plunkett
then, accompanied by Davis, loaded the patient into the ambulance and
sped away, sirens blaring.
As the crowd dispersed, Chelko started walking down the course. There
was nothing else to do. After about a quarter-mile, she picked up the
pace, finished the race and headed straight for the first-aid station,
where she was told Plunkett had been transported to Crawford Long.
She went home, showered, then drove directly to the hospital to check
on his condition. He was in surgery, so Chelko sat with Plunketts
wife. He made it through surgery fine. Chelko and the Plunketts have become
close. She visited him several times during his recovery and even introduced
him to her children.
It was a team effort, Chelko said. It makes you feel
good about humanity. People stopped and helped. They were very concerned.
I was just glad I could play a small part. I was actually glad I had run
the Peachtree because I believe everything has a reason. And I believe
thats the reason I was supposed to be running.
Chelkos athleticism, not to mention her giving nature and devotion
to family, is quite remarkable, and it really knows no boundaries. Sometimes
all these qualities intersect.
A swimming and backpacking instructor in Emorys P.E. department
for 17 years, Chelko has been an elite athlete all her life. A collegiate
swimmer at Georgia Southern, she has run marathons and even competed in
Hawaiis Ironman Triathlon in 1987. Raising five children in the
process, now aged 26 to 16 (One child, Phillip, who was stillborn; he
would be 20 now. Her surviving children are John, Olivia, Emily, Justin
and StephenOlivia and Emily are Emory graduates).
So that year she donated one of her kidneys, and Billys health
took a turn for the better. He returned to work six weeks after the transplant.
Unfortunately, his good health didnt last long. After about a year,
Billys body rejected the new organ, and he died soon after.
Chelko has no regrets. Its one of those things where you
dont understand why it happened, but Im just so glad I did
it, she said. I wouldve felt horrible if I hadnt
been able to help him. It was kind of special, really.
She suffers no ill effects from the transplant. She teaches a full courseload,
swims, mountain bikes and snowboards at her regular pace. While she has
doctor permission to run marathons again, she doesnt, just to save
some wear and tear on her remaining kidney. Instead, she tops out at 10Ks.
Her main precaution is that she must remain well-hydrated whenever she
Not even the fact that Chelko, who is divorced, was pregnant for half
of a decade was enough to slow her down. For instance, when she interviewed
for her Emory P.E. job in 1983, Chelko was pregnant with Stephen. Once
he was born, she nursed him in the gym.
She competed in her first triathlon soon after her hirea relatively
easy one (a one-mile swim, 15-mile bike ride and 5K run at Stone Mountain
that same year)when she was eight months pregnant with Stephen.
Her doctor, who gave her his blessing, accompanied her to the event. After
she crossed the finish line, she took her kids to the pool for the afternoon,
then went on a picnic.
I never understood why you couldnt exercise [while pregnant],
she said. Up until 30 years ago, I guess, women didnt do anything
[when they were pregnant]. In the pioneer days, no one thought twice about
it. You had a baby and were up and going within hours.
Swimming, she said, is excellent exercise for a woman while she is pregnant,
as well as after she has her baby. The pounding on the body is minimal,
and pregnancyshe added with a straight facemakes a women more
buoyant. Several of the women in the classes she has taught in the Atlanta
community have been in fact, pregnant.
Chelko also teaches backpacking and takes her students on two hikes each
semester. She likes variety and visits different trails throughout Georgia
and even ventures into North Carolina and Tennessee on occasion, if the
conditions are right. While on the trail, Chelko teaches her students
about wilderness survival, basic first aid and camping techniques.
Its a neat class because you get to know your students. In
the classroom, you know their names, but you dont really learn about
them, Chelko said. People will really open up when they sit
around a campfiretheyll talk about their families, their dreams
and hopes for the future. I love teaching that class.
Chelko got to use those backpacking skills on her most recent adventure:
A camping and hiking trip through Europe with Justin and Stephen. For
31 days in July and August, the trio crisscrossed the continent on foot
(hiking an average of 810 miles a day) and train, visiting nine
countries in all. No hotels either.they stayed in hostels and campgrounds,
the most interesting being a large circus tent outside Munich, Germany,
that sheltered more than 200 travelers.
She had never been to Europe and it was a trip she had wanted to take
for many years.
The first couple days were a little unnerving, but after that it was a lot of fun, she said. It was a great experience [being] with my boys.