Casey Griffith, center, joins other paddlers as they get started during the Queen City Paddle Heat Stroke at Bonita Lakes Saturday morning.

Casey Griffith was handed a permanent handicap placard by her doctor.

After undergoing surgery to repair a deteriorating disc in her neck caused by a cervical disease, she said she experienced excruciating pain. Her doctor had no answers.

“He literally said, ‘You’re broken. This is your life now, this is what it’s going to be, get used to it,’” Griffith said. “That just breaks your spirit.”

A self-proclaimed “workaholic” and frequent exerciser, a disheartened Griffith was forced to transform her life. Unable to work, and also suffering from rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis in her lower back, she went on disability and was given limits on everything, including how much she could walk on a daily basis.

And that’s the way it was for approximately a decade, she said, until she found several groups, like one at the Anderson Regional Medical Center, that changed her life for the better. 


Casey Griffith poses among the kayaks and paddleboards prior to the race.

“They all sparked something in me to learn how my body works. To figure out how to make it do what I need it to do so I can have my life back,” she said. “They want to teach you to work your body to push through the pain, because there is pain. You have to push through it and get to a point where you can take back control.”

After rehabbing with those groups, Griffith handed in her handicapped placard. She started working and exercising again, and is now a full-time employee at Lowes and teaches HIIT classes, or high-intensity interval training, at Fitness Depot.

Griffith was also a participant in the Queen City Paddle Heat Stroke Saturday, Meridian’s first official paddleboard race. The event featured 3 and 6-mile races along the perimeter of Bonita Lakes, where kayakers could also compete, and benefited Hope Village for Children. Griffith finished first in her division and seventh overall in the 3-mile race. 

Jonathan Dickerson, proprietor of Queen City Paddle and the main organizer of the event, is an experienced paddleboard racer and said he struggled to get people to travel with him to out-of-state competitions, so he decided to try and establish something at home. 

“I thought if I did something big here, maybe that’ll get people out on the water,” Dickerson said.

The race had nearly four dozen participants from all over Mississippi, as well as from Louisiana, Alabama and Florida, according to Dickerson. 

He said this year’s installment of the Queen City Paddle Heat Stroke is part of a three-year plan. For this year, just starting out, it will be done as best as possible. Next year, he hopes to fine-tune it before it becomes a widely popular event the year after.  

“Every time I go paddling and see somebody, I talk to them about it. The last thing I always say is, ‘Won’t you come paddling with me?’” Dickerson said. “And I figure this is a way, if I can just bring some people here and get the local people interested in it, that it would kick off something big.” 

Dickerson said he hopes the race will attract more people to paddleboard. 

“If you can stand, if you can walk, you can paddleboard,” he said. “You’re out there just enjoying the scenery, getting some fresh air. Or you can get a hard core run out of it, seriously burn some calories and shed some pounds.”

Mike Couch started paddleboarding with Dickerson because it was simply “something new in Meridian.” An Iron Man athlete, he competed in the race Saturday before joining the Sunfish Triathlon Sunday. He said he can use his local influence to grow the Queen City Paddle Heat Stroke, and hopes to see it get well over 100 participants. 

“I can support it. I know a lot of people in Meridian. I can contact them and say, ‘Hey, support this,’” Couch said. “So now we’ve got a race on our hands.”

Couch said he hopes the race will mirror the popularity of other outdoor events like The Great Scorpion Trail Run and the Magnolia Marathon. 

“I’d like this to be the same,” he said. “And (for Meridian) to be a sports community.”

React to this story: