Celeste will walk in the Twin Cities walk, and Nigon, in the Rochester walk. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/CHATFIELD NEWS
Celeste will walk in the Twin Cities walk, and Nigon, in the Rochester walk. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/CHATFIELD NEWS

"I want to walk again to show others that I never gave up, and others shouldn't either," said Celeste Ask. "Having a stroke could happen to anyone, no matter your age or lifestyle, and people need to know that."

Celeste is the daughter of Walt and Barb Nigon of rural Eyota and a Chatfield High School alum. She is a proud survivor of a stroke, suffered on the morning of June 6, 2011. She is also proud to be a Twin Cities participant in the Minnesota Stroke Association's Strides for Stroke awareness and fundraiser walk set for May 17 in the Twin Cities, Duluth, St. Cloud and Rochester

"There are many things that are important to me while I am walking," she added. "First off, by just being here and being able to walk and realizing that each year I continue to improve both physically and mentally"

Celeste, who's excited about putting one foot in front of the other in the Strides for Stroke walk, has grown from taking baby steps to making leaps that she notices only later while still recovering from her stroke. She maintains it's important to persevere in her pursuit of a full life, something that was nearly taken away from her.

On the day she suffered her stroke, the Farmington, Minn., resident collapsed at work, defying the common perception that strokes affect only older people.

According to the Minnesota Stroke Association, "Stroke is the leading cause of death and disability in the United States and is a leading cause of death in Minnesota, resulting in almost 12,000 hospitalizations in the state each year. Over 97,000 Minnesotans live with the consequences of a stroke."

Celeste feels so fortunate to have been able to go home after she had the stroke. "It wasn't looking good in the beginning, but here I am," she added. "The first year was really hard, and as we approach my three-year anniversary, it seems to start feeling a little more normal. It's hard to imagine where I would be otherwise."

Her husband, Andy, and her sons have been very understanding and supportive, and for that, she is thankful. "I am very fortunate to have so many wonderful friends and family members on both sides be here for us. Between Andy and the boys, I don't know what it would be like without them. I just want people to not give up. I wasn't expecting to be where I am today, but I had no control over it."

Celeste explained she was a very independent person and felt helpless for a while because she didn't like to ask for help, and many of her family members knew that. "I did not want to rely on others for help, but I had to have it," she added.

She said she is feeling better and can definitely see changes in many aspects of her health and life.

"I continue to gain my confidence back that I used to have," Celeste said. "When people see me walking with a cane, they look at me funny and I am sure wonder why I use it. Sometimes I tell them, and sometimes I don't."

She used to be great with names and faces, but now admits to often struggling to connect them to their places, and she's working on making herself an advocate for stroke survivors.

"At this time, I am still not able to work, so I have been doing some volunteering at the boys' school, going to monthly stroke survivor meetings and also serve at Fairview Ridges Hospital in a patient/family advisory council to help the hospital improve," she said.

Celeste has been surprised by running into people she doesn't see often and who tell her how much improvement they are able to see in her.

"I don't remember much from the first six months, and as time goes by, I have noticed some changes that I didn't think about," she admitted. "I am starting to read more, which is great because I used to do it often. Having to relearn all the basic things in life that I used to do is a little different. Sitting at the table with my boys doing homework is weird...I had already done it all. It's like it is in my brain - because I knew how to do things - but it's stuck. Things like that are hard to explain to others."

She noted that while she does face challenges each day - such as not being able to drive, walk as well as she'd like or read - she doesn't like to focus on those aspects of her life.

"There are lots of challenges I have, but I don't want to look at it like that. Everyone has a different life, and I don't think it's fair to compare," Celeste said. "People handle things differently and I decided that I can't just sit back and let my challenges take over. There has to be a way to get past it."

She has been rewarded in finding out who her true friends are and has discovered one has to enjoy the life one has because one never knows when it could change.

"I just want to spread the word about strokes and how much your life can change in a matter of a short time. I am so thankful to have so many people that have helped me through this. Life is fragile," she said.

The stroke association's newsletter explained how Strides for Stroke brings fragile - yet very robust - people together. It reads, "The Minnesota Stroke Association's annual Strides for Stroke event exemplifies the notion of an active stroke community. Not only does it allow us to honor stroke survivors and walk in solidarity with one another, it also raises stroke awareness and helps fund programs that benefit Minnesotans who live with the effects of stroke. Strides for Stroke demonstrates that stroke is not an ending. The hundreds of people walking together for a common cause is a beautiful picture of the power of community and the possibilities it represents - for survivors, their families and the people around them."

It continues, "Since 2010, more than 1,800 participants have registered for Strides for Stroke. In that time, over $108,000 has been raised by individuals, and $10,750 has been raised in sponsorships, which has helped support the Minnesota Stroke Association in developing programs and raising awareness across the state."

Celeste concurred, "The Strides for Stroke walk is a way to support others that have had a stroke or have had family or friends whose lives have been impacted by them. This walk is not any different than others, but it doesn't get as much attention. Stroke is the number four killer in the U.S., and it doesn't seem to be talked about that much."

She anticipates being at the starting line of the 1.25-mile walk at Battle Creek Regional Park, where her team includes both friends and family.

"I look forward to seeing the other stroke survivors and their families that I have been in contact with since it happened, along with other people that I will meet at the walk," she concluded.

Barb Nigon hopes to inspire people to be more aware of the possibility that strokes can and do affect people of all ages, and that while it does happen to one family member, it changes the family in numerous ways.

The past three years have been difficult for Barb in that she's the mother and walking the fine line between showing great concern for her daughter and doing too much to help.

"I leave it up to her now if she wants me there. She has to live in her space," Barb stated, admiring the progress Celeste has made and the determination that drives her to make that progress.

"I think she's still regaining her life, but it's not as predominant as it was," Barb continued. "She's taken up hobbies, like sewing, which she never did before, and now she's tackling a quilt. She's still not able to drive, she's walking with a cane yet, but I think she's getting back into her routines. The kids help keep her busy and she has people who help take her places."

Barb is reminded often that Celeste has to make progress on her own. "It didn't happen to me...but Celeste is outgoing, and she's done several presentations on awareness of stroke," she said. "I hope she keeps improving and enjoys what she has - the ability to be with Andy and the boys. The whole family matured through this."

Barb invited anyone interested in walking to raise funds for stroke research to join the Rochester Strides for Stroke walk at the Silver Lake east pavilion on Saturday, May 17, at 9 a.m., either as a sponsored team or as an impromptu group making a donation.

"I'm hoping that we have good weather and a bigger turnout than last year, when we had about 50 walkers," Barb said. "I was pleased with it, being that it was the first time. We had a high school track team show up, and they ran it several times. We'll be walking through puddles if it's rained, and the walk is about an hour and a half long, or three miles. This is basically the only fundraiser the Minnesota Stroke Association has, so it's very important."

Celeste concluded, as a survivor, she's found one thing to be true. "You can't ever give up! Things happen for a reason, and soon enough you will find out why," she said.

For more information on Strides for Stroke or the Minnesota Stroke Association, log onto www.strokemn.org.