The idea seemed ludicrous: A muscle-bound world-class athlete and an Iowa mom with arms and legs reduced to sticks, sharing the same rare muscle condition.
When her sister suggested it, Jill Viles scoffed. “Who in a million years would possibly put together somebody who can’t walk and somebody who’s an Olympic hurdler?” Viles said this week from her home in Gowrie, in north-central Iowa
But doctors had been wrong before about Viles, who lost use of her legs several years ago. And the more she examined photos of Priscilla Lopes-Schliep, a Canadian who won bronze in 2008, the more she began to think her sister was right.
Looking a picture of Lopes-Schliep from the back, “it was absolutely my dad. It was something I had seen since I was a little girl,” said Viles, a Des Moines native. “Our family is connected to that picture and we have a mutation” in a gene that led to the unusual physique. “It’s uncanny.”
But did they really share a genetic hiccup? And if so, why did it put Jill Viles into a motorized scooter but made Priscilla Lopes-Schliep a track champion?
The search for answers led Viles onto another leg of an already remarkable tale of discovery. It’s a science story, but also a human-interest story that has gotten attention from across America and around the world.
The quest goes on. Viles is seeking donations to support research into the differences and similarities between her and Lopes-Schliep – the anti-Jill Viles – with the hope it could lead to new therapies, even for those suffering from more common muscle conditions. With enough donations, Viles also hopes to help others travel to consult with the world’s leading expert in her condition.