When Watterson High School senior Shannon Caldwell was 2 years old, her parents noticed that she consistently limped and complained about different parts of her body being in pain.

When Watterson High School senior Shannon Caldwell was 2 years old, her parents noticed that she consistently limped and complained about different parts of her body being in pain.

Caldwell underwent a series of medical tests and was diagnosed as having juvenile idiopathic arthritis, an autoimmune disease that causes chronic inflammation of the joints and the tissues around the joints as well as organs. Her parents, Bruce and Mary, prepared themselves for the worst-case scenario.

"It was pretty scary because a friend's little sister had it and was crippled by it, so we bought a van with the thought that we may need to make it wheelchair accessible at some point," Mary said. "It was really bad when Shannon was little. There were times when she was pale, tired and clingy, and at one point she couldn't even walk down our steps.

"I can remember a time when she told me she needed a Band-Aid for her finger. She didn't have a cut on any of her fingers, so I asked which one hurt, and when she said 'all 10 of them,' it broke my heart."

At the time, no one could have guessed that Caldwell would fight through her chronic pain and eventually develop into one of the top distance runners for the Watterson girls track and field team.

In a quad meet against Bexley, Columbus School for Girls and Tree of Life on April 17, she finished third in the 1,600 meters in 2 minutes, 41 seconds and placed eighth in the 800 (5:57).

"For Shannon, running isn't about winning a gold medal as much as it's about getting a chance to compete and do something she loves," Mary said. "When she passes another runner on the track, I can see a look of determination and satisfaction on her face, and I almost want to cry because I know how hard she's had to work to get to this point."

After her diagnosis, Caldwell began doing physical therapy three times a day and taking medication to limit the effects of the disease.

She began playing soccer and basketball at age 5 and continued to participate in both sports through her eighth-grade year, despite frequently experiencing swelling and pain in her ankles, knees, elbows, wrists and fingers.

"When I run for soccer or track, I have problems with my knees and ankles, and when I played basketball, there were times when I would jam my finger and it would swell up five times as much as it should have," Caldwell said. "A lot of my doctors basically discouraged me from playing those sports, but I didn't want to let it hold me back from what I want to do. Sometimes I get frustrated because it's so painful, but I've never let that stop me, because the best way to treat arthritis is to stay active."

Caldwell played three years of soccer in high school before choosing to give track a try for the first time last spring. She then decided to run cross country last fall and was one of the Eagles' top four scorers for the majority of the
season.

"A lot of soccer players are fit because of all the running they do, and Shannon was in our top five from day one," said Matt McGowan, who coaches the boys and girls cross country teams and the boys track team. "She's a positive influence on our younger kids, because they see how hard she works and they try to follow her lead."

Caldwell has a 3.9 GPA and plans on attending Ohio State with the goal of studying an aspect of medicine. Her health issues have fueled her compassion for people who are in need of aid.

In the past year, she has volunteered more than 180 hours working in soup kitchens and helping to repair homes for low-income families. She also helped raise nearly $1,000 to benefit the Arthritis Foundation by participating in the Jingle Bell Run/Walk on Dec. 3 in downtown Columbus.

"I like to help other people who need it, because I've been blessed to have people who were there for me when I've been in need," Caldwell said. "My goal is to go to medical school because I'd love to work with little kids who have health issues. It would feel amazing to be able to help other people in that way."