2003 state champion in track and field is now a health coach living in Southern California
She cleared hurdles at a record pace.
She won two state championships for the Hudson’s Bay Eagles in 2003.
She headed off to college on a scholarship.
Today, Sarah Jackson Panther is a coach.
Not in sports, though.
In life. In health.
This once great, powerful young athlete endured years of suffering as her body broke down with chronic illness.
For six years, she needed all her strength to work just a couple days a week. The rest of the time, she was in bed.
Through it all, she kept her faith. That faith was tested, but she relied on her love for Jesus, and His love for her.
Four years ago, she found the Dynamic Neural Retraining System (DNRS), and she has been in the healing process.
A writer, she has detailed her experiences and she wants to help others like her understand that there is hope.
“As I have started to rebuild my life using DNRS, I didn’t mean to carve out a career as a health coach. It naturally evolved,” she said.
Panther said her ordeal was spiritually disorienting.
“You wonder why God has let your life fall to this hard place,” she said.
How does one honor God when all one can do is “lie in bed and breathe and blink?” she asked.
“I so craved insight from other people who knew what it felt like to feel so naked. People weren’t talking about it.”
Now, she is talking about it.
“We like stories of overcoming. A lot of my followers on Instagram … they will never have a life this side of heaven where they can do what everyone else is doing. I wanted to be honest with what those years were like.”
Before those health issues, Sarah Jackson was a champion athlete. In 2003, her senior year at Hudson’s Bay, she won state titles in the 100-meter high hurdles and the 300-meter hurdles.
Today, she looks back, grateful she was able to represent her school, and her coaches: Tom Petersen and Phoebe Miletich.
“They were kind and humble and sincerely cared for their kids. They made my life a whole lot richer,” she said.
Everything was perfect at that state championship meet.
“It was a special grace,” she said. “Sports are hard because so many variables have to line up to experience that sort of win. You have to train well. That’s the part you have control over. You have to stay healthy. That’s a part you don’t have a whole lot of control over.
“Everything lined up. I was healthy. The weather was glorious. I had a healthy, good year of training. What are the odds of that? It felt like a special gift.”
From high school, she headed to Azusa Pacific University in California, a place she could combine her desire for bible training along with track and field training. She had some solid years in college as an athlete, but also a couple of years dealing with injuries.
She first started feeling something was wrong in the final year of her college career. By the time she was 25, she was “horrifically ill.”
She went through years of unknowing as doctors searched for a reason. She tried this. She tried that. She tried so many things.
“A lot of people like me find that treatment after treatment just feels like an absolute waste,” Panther said. “The body responds temporarily and falls back into a pit.”
Eventually, her medical team identified a viral co-infection. Two viruses were attacking her system.
Pain. Fatigue. Brain fog. Vertigo. Ringing in the ears. Buzzing in the head.
“At my worst, my body only tolerated five foods,” Panther said. “Squash, turkey, pecans, blueberries, and avocado. All other foods made me violently ill.”
She had limbic system dysfunction: Her brain was reacting to sights, sounds, food as if life threatening. The constant battle saps the body of energy and impedes healing.
She found DNRS four years ago.
“It changed my life. I was in a place where my body would no longer tolerate any treatment. It really was my last hope,” Panther said, adding that it allowed her brain to go from fight or flight to rest and digest.
“As I healed my limbic system … my immune system came online,” she said.
About the time she was starting with her healing process, she met Jay Panther, a former professional skier. Now married, they work together at a ministry for foster youth in Orange County, Calif.
Sarah also is working with local churches to provide a voice for the chronically ill, the ones who are stuck at home but do not want to be forgotten by the church. She is an advocate for them.
“I spent the last four years healing. I’ve got my life back in a lot of significant ways, but I still have a ways to go,” she said. “My focus right now, my great value, is to find ways I can support those who are marginalized. Helping those who are tucked away at their homes who are forgotten because of their illness.”
She hopes all come to the same conclusion she has found in her life.
“There is such a gift in suffering. I don’t mean that glibly. Suffering is horrific. I wouldn’t want to relieve the years that I lived,” she said.
But, she also lived a promise from Jesus.
“He loves you not because of what you have to offer. He loves you because He loves you,” Panther said.
Today, Sarah Panther can run at the beach. She can spend the day at the ocean with Jay and their dog Lily.
In 2003, when she was winning state championships, she never figured to find so much joy in just a simple walk around town.
“It’s been quite a wild ride,” Panther said. “Surely could not have imagined the twists and turns.”