Despite obstacles, three area runners plan to cross the finish line this summer

Lexi Graybill, left, Dale Buettner, center, and Lily Embury
Lexi Graybill, left, Dale Buettner, center, and Lily Embury

Central Kentucky runners who like to compete in races are in training mode these days as they prepare for the Bluegrass 10,000 on July 4 and A Midsummer Night's Run in August.

We talked with three local runners, each of whom has struggled with health problems, who plan to cross the finish line in a future race.

Dale Buettner

At his heaviest, Dale Buettner weighed more than 460 pounds. His current weight is between 170 and 175 pounds, and he is the healthiest he has ever been.

Buettner, 44, has progressed from walking to running to competing in his first full marathon, but the battle with his weight was long and filled with emotional discovery.

Buettner's advice for those looking to win their battle with food and weight gain is that it begins on the inside.

"Try to figure out the why, what's behind it. Why are you turning to food to figure out something that is most likely emotional? Once you know what is going on, sticking to a food plan becomes a lot easier," he said.

At age 6, Buettner had his first experience with eating to fill an emotional void. His father's job as a truck driver forced him to be away from his family for weeks at a time.

"I started going to food for comfort, something I had seen my mother doing," Buettner said.

Steadily he began to gain weight, and by sixth grade, weighed 220 pounds. He attended a support group for overeaters, but there were no others his age at those meetings, so he quit going. Instead, he decided to change his eating habits and start being more active.

Eventually, though, he returned to his old ways.

In 2009, when he hit 460 pounds Buettner again committed to a healthier diet. In a year, he lost about 100 pounds. In November 2010, he added walking to his lifestyle, and within three years he had lost more than half of his body weight and managed to keep it off.

"I started wanting to do exercise that kind of fit into my lifestyle," said Buettner, who works at the downtown Lexington Public Library. He used the library as his gym, walking and eventually running laps inside the building.

Now, Buettner runs alone and with various groups from John's Run and Walk Shop. Buettner progressed from a 5K to a 10K to his first half-marathon, which he finished in less than two hours.

The transition from walking to running was difficult, he said, but it has become easier as he has kept at it.

Lily Embury

Lily Embury, 11, was born with congenital muscular dystrophy, a group of muscle diseases that weaken the musculoskeletal system and limit muscle movement.

"I will have it for the rest of my life," Lily said.

Her case is non-progressive, so it won't get worse. It affects her biceps. She can't straighten her arms because where there should be muscle, she has fiber fatty tissue.

"In running, it affects my stride a little bit, but in regular life the changes are minimal," Lily said.

She said that playing games like "head shoulders knees and toes" were difficult for her in kindergarten.

"Where people would lift their arms over their head, I would have to cross my arms," said Lily, who has had to make adaptations in life because of her disease.

Lily, born to Dusty Columbia Embury and Michael Embury, both runners, ran her first 5k at age 6, then she took time off from running. One race, however, inspired her to start running again.

While watching her dad in a race in Buffalo, N.Y., she cheered for him, but "the real inspiration was the 13-year-old boys I saw running at the end of the race," she said.

She decided to start running again, and she trained for her first 5K at Myrtle Beach, S.C.

"A lot of people I didn't know were supporting me, and that's really empowering," she said.

She recently started running cross-country. She said she isn't very good, but she continues to practice.

"It's an individual sport, so there is no one to beat but you."

She runs five days a week when training, but that kind of training schedule requires some sacrifices.

"It can be kind of tough when my friends are playing outside or going to the movies, I have to stay in for a run," Lily said. "I only have one close friend to me and there is a neighborhood park by us, so we ride bikes and play in the park."

Recently she took some time off to be in a middle school play, she said.

She isn't training right now, but she'll begin training soon for A Midsummer Night's Run 5K in August in downtown Lexington.

Dusty Embury, Lily's mom, said that even though Lily is a kid she can have an influence on others.

"We run into so many people who say 'I can't do that,' and she's able to do it not because she isn't different from anybody, but because she has a plan, she stuck to it and she has gotten a lot of support from family and friends," Dusty Embury said.

Lily Embury is the local goodwill ambassador for the Muscular Dystrophy Association chapter in Central Kentucky. She has raised more than $1,500 in the past two years for the MDA to send kids to summer camp.

As an MDA ambassador, Lily has encountered young people and adults struggling in their lives.

Her advice to them: "You are what you think you can do; and whether you think you can or can't, you're right," Lily said.

Alexandra Graybill

For six years, Alexandra "Lexi" Graybill suffered frequent pain and migraines, and she made multiple trips to the emergency room. Finally, in 2011, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

"I was guaranteed by my doctor that I would be in a wheelchair in a year," Graybill said.

The news didn't stop her.

"I was angry at first, but it was more of a defense mechanism to get angry," Graybill said. "I woke up one day and realized life's too short to be depressed, and that's when I started dealing with it."

Graybill, 22, started running and watching her diet. After considering a variety of advice from doctors and experts, she settled on her own running program: Just go.

Her first races were at Sandersville Elementary School and A Midsummer Night's Run, and she is preparing for her second half marathon in Vancouver, Canada.

"It's going to hurt, but it'll be fun," Graybill said.

She also changed her diet by adding color.

"I would try to find more leafy green vegetables for bright greens and bright reds and incorporate them into my diet," Graybill said. Within a year after she made that change, she'd lost 55 pounds.

Despite her doctor's prognosis, Graybill is no longer taking any of the 12 medicines prescribed to her and is making progress.

"Now I'm just on vitamins. I'm not as sluggish and the weight is gone," Graybill said.

Graybill's journey to physical health was a process, and she first had to deal with emotional and psychological struggles.

A lover of music, she used it as a therapy to help through the years after her diagnosis.

"I'm young, and this diagnosis was really early for me, but I don't let it get me down," Graybill said.

She took a few months off from school and her job as a financial counselor at University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital to do something she never thought possible before her diagnosis.

"I decided I was going to follow my favorite band around," she said.

She went to concerts of the group Nickelback in five major U.S. cities and two in Canada.

"It was scary, but I did it and I don't regret it," Graybill said. "Before I was diagnosed, I took everything for granted, and that changed my life. And now I don't take anything for granted," she said.

Graybill has advice for anyone going through a difficult diagnosis: "Stay strong. You're allowed to have a pity party, but don't let it keep you down."