Dressed in her Baltimore City police uniform, Detective Karen Manns said last month that she is in the best shape of her life. Eleven years ago, however, her career and health were at risk.
After hip replacement surgery in 2003, the then-34-year-old was told by her doctor that she wouldn't be able to run for the rest of her life, putting her livelihood as a police officer in jeopardy.
"It put me in a state of depression," Manns said. "[Those] words were in the back of my head."
Though Manns started running again in five years, she required another hip replacement in 2011, and she was told — for a second time — that she could run no more.
Yet Manns has been running for the past two years and is set to participate in the Nautica Malibu Triathlon next Sunday in Malibu, Calif., as a part of CNN's Fit Nation team.
The triathlon includes a half-mile ocean swim, an 18-mile bike ride and a 4-mile run. The group — coached by CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta — consists of six members from around the nation who hope to overcome past health problems. After years of setbacks, Manns hopes she can inspire others to regain control of their health.
"That's why I want my story out there," Manns said. "I want be able to encourage somebody else, to help somebody else, to uplift somebody else."
Hip problems run in Manns' family, and the physical nature of her job along with trouble maintaining her weight worsened her condition. Most joint replacement patients already are physically inactive before their operation, Gupta said in an email, so returning to full activity after surgery is uncommon. The hips' important role in movement, though, makes recovering from hip replacement surgery an even more daunting task.
"Recovery from any operation is tough, but we depend on our hips for everything from standing, to sitting down, laying down, and getting back up," Gupta said. "So each time you do one of those after this major surgery, it can be stiff or painful."
Gupta met Manns at the Baltimore Inner Harbor, which was the last stop of his nationwide tour on the launch of the Healthcare.gov website in 2013. Manns, who was a part of Gupta's security unit that day, shared her story with the famous neurosurgeon. Astonished by Manns' recovery, Gupta encouraged her to apply for the Fit Nation team.
Manns was one of over 100 applicants who sent a video to CNN to share their past health problems and desire to become more physically active. After talking to her at the Inner Harbor, Gupta knew she was an ideal candidate.
"One of the things we look for in applicants is a resolve to get to that goal," Gupta said. "We also liked that she was a source of inspiration, both for people who had undergone joint-replacement surgery and wanted to continue to be active, and to the law enforcement community, where people sometimes put the needs of the community above their own health."
Since Manns became a part of Fit Nation, co-workers at the police department and other joint replacement patients have reached out to her for advice. She also has recently received messages on Facebook from people who have started exercising again after hearing her story.
Emmett Burns, Manns' personal trainer, said he was surprised by how fit she was when they started working together in 2012. He remembers how Manns completed a 3-mile run that included two hills only one year after receiving her second hip replacement.
"For somebody with a hip replacement, that's extra energy and extra push to be able to maneuver the way up, but she was able to do it," Burns said.
Burns now calls this particular course the "Karen Manns Fun Run," and has his other clients do the same run to evaluate their physical fitness. In 2013, Manns completed five 5K races, a 10K and 10 miles of the Baltimore half marathon before fatigue prevented her from finishing.
Since being selected to Fit Nation in December, Manns and the rest of the team has been to Atlanta and Laguna Beach, Calif., to train for the Malibu Triathlon. Like most members of Fit Nation, though, Manns never has done a triathlon.
"I know what to expect, but I don't know what to expect," Manns said. "So, I'm a little scared."
Manns said that training for the triathlon has been one of the hardest things she has done, but like her recovery from two hip replacements, she is determined to accomplish another goal that once seemed impossible.
"I'm human, but I got faith that I'm going to make it," Manns said. "That's my goal, to cross that finish line, and that's what I'm going to do."