By Scott Kindberg
BEMUS POINT - On Monday morning, Ella Ames, the elementary principal at Chautauqua Lake Central School, stood at the door to greet her students just like she has every day for the last nine years.
Pictured is Ella Ames, left, and her husband Kevin. The two participated in the Muddy Viking, a 4-mile off-road race at Lake Chautauqua Lutheran Center on Saturday.
It's a lesson she learned more than three decades ago when she was preparing to make teaching her life's work.
''When I took up education,'' she said, ''they stressed so much that you have no idea what the kids have been through when they come to school. So, I'm out there every morning to make sure that I give them that 'smiley' face when they walk in the door.''
In return, maybe the kids gave Ella a hug, a high-five when they arrived at school. For if the mission of an educator is to motivate his or her students, the 56-year-old Mayville resident has accomplished that, and then some.
''She's a person,'' said her daughter, Beth Starks, ''who is always determined to reach her goals, no matter what obstacles are in her way.''
To say that the obstacles the last 2 years have been daunting would be a huge understatement.
''At one point,'' her husband, Kevin, said, ''I didn't think she would walk again.''
As he spoke, a voice boomed over the public-address system at the Lake Chautauqua Lutheran Center, announcing the top finishers from the second annual Muddy Viking. Hundreds of adults and children turned out Saturday to participate in the four-mile, 26-obstacle, off-road race.
Ella, once wheelchair bound, was one of them.
In 2011, one of Ella's knees locked up, but she wasn't terribly worried, because she figured it was the result of surgery she'd had on the joint 30 years ago.
But then her other knee began acting up.
''I knew something was wrong,'' Ella said.
Ultimately, she sought treatment in Cleveland where she learned that she had rheumatoid arthritis, a long-term disease that leads to inflammation of the joints and surrounding tissues.
That wasn't the only bad news.
''My rheumatologist said it was one of the worst cases she'd ever seen,'' Ella said. ''Within two months, I was in a wheelchair.''
Despite the debilitating pain, she never missed a day of work, never missed greeting the elementary school students and never felt sorry for herself.
''That's one of the most amazing things,'' Kevin said, ''because she could have gone on disability. She was in so much pain that she could barely walk. I would help her every morning. ... At one point, I was very afraid for her, because it was such a quick onset of this horrible, horrible disease.''
Noted Ella: ''Have you ever had the flu? Do you know how you're sweating, every joint in your body aches and you feel like you can't even get out of bed? That's what it's like.''
But, happily, that's not how it stayed.
Thanks to successful treatment, including medication, and the love and support of her family, Ella's health improved enough that Kevin felt comfortable asking her if she would join him for the Muddy Viking.
''I sort of made the suggestion and she did it for me,'' said Kevin, who is the site manager at LCLC. ''She said, 'Just remember that I love you and that's why I'm doing it.'''
The couple began taking daily walks several months ago and Kevin, who has lost 90 pounds, continued his daily runs. Soon, the whole family - Beth, her husband, Mike, and their two children, Ethan, 9, and Aiden, 6 - had Oct. 5 (Muddy Viking day) circled on their calendar.
The one providing the inspiration was Ella.
''She tried every single obstacle,'' said Beth, who couldn't participate because she recently had stitches in her knee, ''and at the end she had a big smile on her face.''
Added Ella: ''It was almost a relief to crawl through the mud, knowing that it was the last thing ... but it was really a big sense of accomplishment.''
Ella admitted that she was a ''little embarrassed'' about the attention she was receiving for having completed the Muddy Viking. Then she was reminded that her story would likely help others who are dealing with life's challenges.
''You're right,'' Ella said. ''That is what your hope is, as a principal, to inspire every student to believe in themselves and achieve whatever it is they want to achieve.''
As she spoke, a smile creased her face.
The youngsters at the elementary wouldn't be the least bit surprised.