Nothing will keep her from that finish line.
Aidan Rogers has been through too much. The Franklin resident has spent the past three years mired in the mysterious symptoms of “long COVID.” She has been to the emergency room more than 20 times, suffering through heart conditions and breathing difficulty. Some days, she’s been so fatigued and weak she could barely move.
Only through tireless physical therapy, medication and refusal to give up has Rogers reclaimed her life. Running the OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini-Marathon is her comeback, a way to prove what she’s overcome.
“I told somebody years ago, when this was just getting started, my story was going to be that I just kept showing up. That’s it, and that’s what I’ve done,” she said.
Rogers will join more than 20,000 people in running the Mini Marathon on Saturday, pushing through 13.1 miles from downtown Indianapolis, around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and back. She has trained for months to be part of one of the largest mini-marathons in the country — an event that has become a milestone for runners every May.
The feeling of completing the Mini will be cathartic, she said.
“I’m thrilled for the finish line. I’ve worked hard for this, and nothing is going to take it away from me,” she said.
The bold white letters on a shirt, flecked with accents of pink, sum up Rogers’ mindset heading into the race. “Crawling is acceptable. Falling is acceptable. Puking is acceptable. Crying is acceptable. Pain is acceptable. Quitting is Not.”
When Rogers was suffering with long COVID, an advertisement for the shirt had come across her social media.
“I ordered it as motivation,” the 38-year-old said.
Long COVID-19 is a mysterious and frustrating condition experienced by some people who have been diagnosed with the virus. According to research by the Centers for Disease Control, approximately 15% of adults who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 experience long COVID.
The nebulous illness is defined as a multi-systemic condition with signs, symptoms, and conditions present four weeks or more after the initial phase of infection. U.S. Health and Human Services asserts that long COVID is not one condition, but “represents many potentially overlapping entities, likely with different biological causes and different sets of risk factors and outcomes.”
Symptoms may include fatigue and extreme tiredness, respiratory and heart problems, neurological issues and digestive unrest, among other aspects.
The wide-ranging condition makes it difficult to diagnose and treat.
For Rogers, it completely upended her life.
“I was living a life that, I couldn’t wash the dishes if I had to mow the yard. I couldn’t do two things like that in the same day,” she said. “I was coming home from work and going to bed at 5:30, just because I’m too fatigued to do anything.”
Rogers was diagnosed with COVID-19 in November 2020. An employee of Franklin Community Schools at the onset of the pandemic, she had stepped forward to help pack meals for students while schools were closed. When schools gradually opened back up, she continued to work in the cafeteria.
She started feeling unwell, to the point where in mid-November she went to the emergency room and stayed overnight with severe abdominal pain.
“They can’t figure it out. No one suspected COVID,” she said. “I went to work the next morning, and I started coughing by mid-morning. My boss asked me if I was OK, and I said yes, but in my mind, I was thinking, ‘No, this is the most painful cough I’ve ever had.’”
In a followup with her doctor at Johnson Memorial Health later that day, Rogers took a COVID-19 test, which came back positive.
“I didn’t even need the test results. I couldn’t get out of bed,” she said. “I never ran a fever, never lost my sense of taste or smell, but I was fatigued and I couldn’t breathe.”
Rogers still tested positive for the virus three weeks later, and she struggled with extreme fatigue. The condition persisted for months, frustrating her.
“Before COVID, I was running 1,000 miles a year. There was no reason for me to get severe COVID,” she said.
Continued visits to her doctor didn’t help. They couldn’t find any answers to why she continued to struggle, and no treatments seemed to work. Her breathing was still incredibly labored, and she could barely walk her dog a block.
Her pulmonologist, examining her lungs, recommended that she try to do a small amount of activity every day.
“He said that since I was young and a runner, if I ran today, run tomorrow, it’ll get easier. At the time, they thought all of the long COVID stuff was de-conditioning,” she said. “So I ran a quarter of a mile, and it took me a week to recover.”
The more Rogers struggled, the more doctors searched for the cause of her problems. Scans of her chest showed four growths in her lungs that had not been present before she was diagnosed with COVID. She started suffering repeated heart arrhythmias — 10 in total.
One time, in August 2021, she had to be admitted into the hospital for two days.
“I woke up in the middle of the night, and I was so dizzy and lightheaded, the world turned upside down, and I had severe chest pain,” she said.
Doctors determined that during those episodes, Roger’s blood pressure was spiking in an instant. Through continued testing, she was diagnosed with prinzmetal angina — extreme chest pains caused by spasms of the arteries in the heart. She was prescribed long-acting nitroglycerine every day, which has kept the condition under control.
But Rogers continued to have disruptions in her heart rhythm. Her doctors found that her brain was sending signals making her heart to beat irregularly, causing her blood pressure and heart rate to fall, before correcting itself.
She was referred to pulmonary rehabilitation with Community Health Network in a desperate attempt to heal her body. She started in June of 2022, and in her first appointment, therapists found that when she did even moderate activity, such as walking down the hall, her oxygen level was nosediving. They had found a cause, and could work on a solution.
“I remember thinking, for the first time, this was going to get easier,” she said.
Continuing through rehabilitation, Rogers’ lungs slowly grew stronger. Therapists taught her to change her breathing pattern to more efficiently get oxygen to her lungs. She was able to do monitored exercise, incrementally increasing the time and exertion.
Her development was encouraging, and graduated from the rehab program in August. She felt so confident, she signed up for the Colts 5K later in the month.
“It was a post-rehab celebration. And I thought, if I was going to keep this going, I have to do the Mini,” she said.
To ensure she stuck with her commitment, Rogers signed up for the race as soon as registration opened. Her training progressed in fits and starts, until her doctors provided her with an inhaler to help keep her lung passages open. By December 2022, she was running 80 miles over the course of the month.
Rogers has continued to run three or four days per week; in April, she hit her 10 1/2 mile long run goal in her training. Her pace hovers around 8 minutes per mile.
“It’s been a massive turnaround,” she said.
With a roadmap to maintain her health, Rogers plans to stay active and continue running. This will likely be her only Mini Marathon, though.
She hopes her experience can give some hope and inspiration to others who are bearing the burden of long COVID.
“I don’t even recognize my life from three years ago. It was so different, and it’s always going to be different now,” she said.