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Idaho Voices

Illness made sports difficult, so Colleen McHail achieved elsewhere

Sun., June 6, 2010, midnight

When 18-year-old Kootenai High School senior Colleen McHail is met with an obstacle, she does what she can to turn it into a positive experience. All one has to do is look at the past four years to know this young woman has faced and overcome challenges that could have left others defeated.

As a seventh-grader, McHail was often sick and fatigued. But it wasn’t until her freshman year of high school when she was diagnosed with inappropriate sinus tachycardia – a heart condition in which an individual’s resting heart rate is abnormally high, usually greater than 100 beats per minute. Her heart rate increases rapidly with minimal exertion, and she also experiences symptoms of palpitations, fatigue, and exercise intolerance.

“I was really into volleyball in junior high and wanted to do track and cross country in high school,” she said.

But instead of sitting by thinking of what she could not do, she turned her diagnosis into an opportunity to try new things. In doing so, there is little she did not experience during her years at Kootenai High School.

She is involved in Business Professionals of America and at a recent competition in Anaheim, Calif., McHail placed in the top 10 nationwide in the category of financial math and analysis. And it wasn’t the first time she made it to the national competition; she also traveled to New York during her freshman year. Participating in Business Professionals of America means that she must spend a lot of time studying as many of the competitions involve taking tests.

McHail has also been involved in drama since the sixth grade and has performed in at least two plays a year since that time. The most recent production was “Beauty and the Beast” where she had the female lead.

“I love to sing,” said McHail, who prefers to perform the older, classical music.

Being a role model for others has been an important theme in her life. She has been a member of Idaho Drug Free Youth throughout high school and has served as a mentor in the PEAK Program – Peers Encouraging Abstinent Kids – for three years. She also is active in her church youth group volunteering and going on retreats with other student members of her church.

As student body president and valedictorian of her 26-member graduating class, McHail says she has enjoyed attending a smaller school. But that will soon end as she prepares to enroll at the University of Idaho in the fall. Her brother already attends UI and she plans to join him there and study business.

She is interested in running her own company one day and says she would like to start a nonprofit charity.

“I want do something along the lines of social work and perhaps run a Catholic charity.”

With her heart condition, McHail says it feels like she is running all the time and it is only when she sleeps that her heart rate fall below 100 beats per minute. She typically misses twice as much school as the average student, which has caused her concern at times about falling behind in her school work.

“I have to be careful. I have a heart monitor so I can constantly look to see what my heart rate is,” she said, adding that her classmates are very supportive. “I’m like everyone’s little sister.”

And while her heart condition is a part of who she is, McHail says it has been important to her to still remain active in her school and her community.

“It (her heart condition) affects you but it does not define you,” she said, encouraging others to not let obstacles defeat them. “Don’t ever give up on any of your dreams.”

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