By Christy Mason Cox
There was a time when nothing could come between hard-charging businesswoman Scheri Force and her stilettos – except perhaps, the switch out to sneakers for her daily workouts.
But if Scheri has a motto these days it might be, “Never look back. If Cinderella went back to pick up her shoe, she never would have become a princess.”
At 59, Scheri Force is alas, not a princess. But for many who are hurting and feeling isolated, she is a queen. And just like Cinderella, to get there, she was forced to leave her shoe(s)
While her life might not be a fairytale, it certainly is a blessing.
It’s not how she envisioned it, of course.
In her early 30s, perched atop her high heels, Scheri Force was a woman on the move. Living in Ohio and newly married, this self-proclaimed “gym nut” was fit and fierce. Devoted to her career, she was the picture of success.
Then one day everything changed.
At first, it just felt weird. She woke up one morning after a tough – but essentially routine – workout, numb from the waist down. She blamed heavy weights and a pulled back muscle for what became on-going pain.
But over the course of the next year and countless doctor visits, the questions piled up without relief or answers. She finally landed at the office of a neurologist who did a spinal tap and offered a stunning diagnosis: multiple sclerosis or “MS”.
For those of a certain generation, MS is an inflammatory neurological disease most commonly associated with Annette Funicello, the iconic 1950s child star of Disney’s “Mickey
Mouse Club.” Funicello was 70 when she died in 2013 after battling severe complications of MS for more than two decades. While her case of MS was rare, it was particularly brutal, so that when Scheri first heard her own diagnosis, it was terrifying.
“I remember the day very clear,” Scheri tells me. “I was completely devastated. I didn’t know anything about MS other than I was gonna end up in a wheelchair and die real soon.”
She recalls in those early days being awash in fear, feeling isolated. She’d only been married at that point two years and wondered how her beloved Al would cope. He’d bargained for
a babe in heels she reasoned, not whatever version of Scheri MS had planned for her. “Oh, my gosh, he didn’t sign up for this…he’s gonna leave,” she fretted.
Turns out Al, their marriage, and their faith, has been a whole lot stronger through the years than MS.
It’s been more than two decades since Scheri first got the diagnosis she feared was a death sentence. She’s learned much about the disease since then, and most importantly, how to live well with it. While it has progressed enough to make her legs too unstable to safely drive and running laps is likewise in the past, the ability to walk (albeit slowly and for short distances) stuck with her.
So has Al.
He didn’t blink back when his babe dropped the bad news bomb. Instead, he promised Scheri he’d walk the road with her – and walk for her if it ever came to that.
So far, it hasn’t.
She even manages to get into the gym when Al can drive her. About 16 years ago they left the cold weather of Ohio behind and settled down in Lexington, SC where Al quickly planted
roots cutting hair as the owner of Southern Cuts barbershop.
The couple also recommitted to their faith.
Scheri says lingering scars dating back from when she was a teenager and her dad left her family never fully healed. For a long time, she says, she lived apart from God, angry with Him, and so when she received the MS diagnosis, that compounded her feelings of loneliness.
But in the move to South Carolina, both she and Al felt God calling them to Him, and back to church. They obeyed that call and with that, old emotional wounds began to heal, and Scheri
experienced new-found freedom in her faith.
Only then did our modern-day Cinderella go back for her shoes.
Though it had been decades since she had been safely able to wear her heels, nonetheless, Scheri lovingly moved her treasured collection from Ohio to South Carolina. It was Al who gently suggested one day it might be time for her to box them up, clear them out, and make peace with their passing.
And so it was, in the quiet of her closet, Scheri felt a stirring to take a closer look at her beloved shoes. For the first time she noticed the scuff marks. She says she began to see some of the low places she had worn these high heels – places where she had been self-centered and uncompassionate. Suddenly, they were easy to let go of as she slipped into her sneakers and saw her life as it is now – full of hope and a purpose to every step. This is
what fits her now.
In her closet that day, Scheri realized God had chosen her to have MS because He knew how He would use her. Moved to help those living with chronic illnesses and disabilities, Scheri
singlehandedly started the non-profit “Uplift Encouragement Group.” Its sole purpose is to provide a community of support for those experiencing common concerns associated with
chronic disabilities. The group provides support, information and most importantly, a place to gather and share joy. Scheri wants no one walking (or wheeling!) alone.
But hear this, too! Uplift is true to its name. Scheri is adamant that this not be a glorified gripe session or pity party. It’s about celebrating lives with challenges, not highlighting the challenges life brings.
Uplift meets monthly at First Baptist Church in Lexington and had seen its numbers explode before Covid-19. But not one to be daunted, Scheri is resuming meetings and hopes to build
other Uplift chapters around the Midlands region.
In addition to the support the group provides its own members, Uplift has a mission to bless others in need with gift baskets, medical equipment and devices, and other encouragements.
Living well up to her last name, Scheri is truly a Force of nature. She may move slowly and even sometimes unsteadily – but always assuredly – secure in the God she serves and the
shoes she’s been dealt.
If you would like information on how to start your own Uplift chapter or join the Uplift Encouragement Group, call Scheri Force at 803.318.4013 or visit the Uplift website at: