Those who know 36-year-old Lashara Wheeler see her as a health-conscientious and upbeat person. Training under Kelvin Brown at Memphis’s I Am Fitness, she focuses on weight lifting and some kickboxing. You’ll find her there four days a week working out. To round out her health, she meal preps every Sunday to ensure she sticks to a healthy diet high in proteins and carbohydrates.

Lashara admits, “I used to have low self-esteem, but working out helped me physically and emotionally.”

Her lifestyle changed suddenly when she was faced with the possibility of cervical cancer. “I had cancerous cells in my cervix that easily could have easily spread and got worse.” Lashara had surgery in May and says, “I kept an upbeat spirit and didn’t want to let this change me, although I did have to step away from working out for a little while.”

Lashara’s life changed abruptly once more on Memorial Day when she met up with a friend. “We were walking, and I saw a duck on the side of the street. I didn’t think much about it until we passed the same spot two hours later and the duck was still there.”

From the street, they could see two small ducklings were trapped inside the drain near the duck. Lashara and her friend got a police officer to open the drain, and Lashara immediately climbed down to save the ducklings. She discovered there were actually eight in total!

“They were the softest, sweetest things to hold,” she remembers.

The officers mistakenly thought the ducks were part of the infamous Peabody Hotel Ducks. “They weren’t,” Lashara recalls laughing, “but they entered the Peabody as if they were going home.” The Peabody quickly adopted the rescued duck family, and Lashara became the Honorary Duck Master for the day.

Her friend recorded the rescue so Lashara could show it to her three children. “I didn’t record it for the public but thought my kids would like it, especially my eight-year-old daughter who is autistic.” However, the story went viral. The Peabody Hotel treated Lashara like a celebrity, and people in Memphis wanted photos with her. Even “Good Morning America” and the “Ellen Degeneres Show” reached out because she received national attention.

“Everyone just loves a feel-good, positive story,” Lashara says. “The experience helped take my mind off of cancer. I actually interviewed with Channel 5 the day of my surgery.”

Lashara says that staying positive is what got her through the difficult time. “The symptoms of something may be there, but focus on the health you do have instead.”

Her gym family has been hugely supportive. Thinking about exercising was an encouraging thought for her during her recovery. “I think this whole experience, including the duck story, has positively impacted me and also shown my children the importance of taking care of themselves and being positive.”

By Susanna Lancaster

Photo by Philip Murphy