Woman diagnoses own rare muscle disease, links mutation to Olympic medalist

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Two years ago, I wrote a book called “The Sports Gene” that examines the intersection of genetics and athleticism. I was almost immediately bombarded with emails from people wanting to know if their kid has Serena Williams’ genes. One coach emailed, wondering how one would get athletes involved in genetic experimentation.

And then I got one that had this subject heading:  “Olympic medalist and muscular dystrophy patient with the same mutation.” Now that caught my attention. I wondered if it might point me to some article or paper in a genetics journal about an elite athlete I’d somehow missed.

Instead, it was a personal note from a 39-year-old Iowa mother named Jill Viles. She was the muscular dystrophy patient, and she had an elaborate theory linking the gene mutation that made her muscles wither to an Olympic sprinter named Priscilla Lopes-Schliep.

She sent me two photos, side-by-side. One was of Jill, in a royal blue bikini, sitting at the beach. Her torso looks completely normal. But her arms are spindles. They almost couldn’t be skinnier, like the sticks jabbed into a snowman for arms. And her legs are so thin that her knee joint is as wide as her thigh. Those legs can’t possibly hold her, I thought.

The other picture was of Priscilla Lopes-Schliep. Priscilla is one of the best sprinters in Canadian history. At the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, she won the bronze medal in the 100-meter hurdles. It was the first Canadian Olympic medal in track and field since 1996. In 2010, Priscilla was the best 100-meter hurdler in the world.

Read full, original post: The DIY Scientist, the Olympian, and the Mutated Gene

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