Gwen Leyden has always strived to maintain a healthy lifestyle. She played soccer growing up and was an avid runner.

The Papillion woman never imagined that doctors would say her days of working out were behind her. Shortly after giving birth to her daughter in 2009, Leyden was diagnosed with POTS, or postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome. Symptoms of the chronic condition often include dizziness and increased heart rate when standing up.

Leyden’s symptoms became so severe, she spent a week using a wheelchair and gradually worked up to walking without using a cane. She started using the treadmill and eventually worked up to weightlifting.

“I kind of had to start over again,” Leyden said. “I just kept going, because I knew where I’d be if I stopped.”

Leyden pushed herself at the gym and was able to participate in a figure competition six months after her diagnosis.

Q: When did you start working out and why?

A: I was big into running. After I had my son in 2007, I got into lifting. I had goals of doing a figure competition.

Q: Describe your workouts. How many days per week do you exercise?

A: I work out four to six days a week, depending on what activities my kids have. I work one or two body parts per workout, like back and shoulders, legs, arms. I use mostly free weights to strengthen my core. I don’t do cardio.

Q: What is your current fitness goal?

A: My goal is to stay healthy to keep up with my kids. They play soccer, volleyball, baseball and gymnastics. We set up circuits in the yard and play catch or jog.

Q: What has been your biggest accomplishment?

A: I have a condition called POTS. It affects the heart, blood pressure, breathing, oxygen and blood flow. It put me in a wheelchair for a week. My neurologist said I’d never be able to work out again. My cardiologist laughed at me when I said I wanted to do a figure competition. I did the figure competition six months later just to prove I could. I could not wait to go back to the doctor’s office and tell them I did it.

Q: What has been the toughest hurdle and how did you overcome it?

A: Probably POTS, because it is so frustrating. One day I can do an hour workout and the next day I can’t do more than 5 minutes. I eat very healthy.

Q: What helps you stay on track?

A: My kids. They keep me active and think it’s cool that I have muscles. I want them to learn to push themselves but still enjoy it and live a healthy life. I want them to know that even though I have this condition, I’ve never given up.

Q: What is your gym pet peeve?

A: People not putting away their weights is my biggest pet peeve.

Q: What do you do when you aren’t in the gym?

A: I run my kids to sports and activities. We take walks on the trail and do circuits in the yard. We just goof around all the time.

Q: What is the piece of equipment, supplement, clothing, etc. that you can’t live without?

A: Headphones. If I don’t have my headphones, I will go home. I will not do a workout without headphones.

Q: What advice would you give to someone who is just starting their fitness journey?

A: Don’t get frustrated. Consistency is key. It’s not going to happen overnight. Nutrition is way bigger than lifting. Clean up your eating, and you’re going to see results.

kelsey.stewart@owh.com, 402-444-3100, twitter.com/kels2

Kelsey covers health and fitness for The World-Herald. Follow her on Twitter @kels2. Phone: 402-444-3100.

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