From the day I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS), I focused my ”¨competitive nature on three goals: staying as active as possible; beating MS; ”¨and finding a cure. More importantly, I want to encourage others living with MS ”¨to stay active too. Not everyone with MS will complete a triathlon but, if I ”¨have my way, they’ll be more active.”¨  ”¨  Each triathlete has his or her own reasons to compete in triathlons. My ”¨competitive nature is what led me to multisport; I came to the sport after years ”¨of competitive running in high school and the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. My ”¨then boyfriend-now-husband had raced bicycles in high school and college and put ”¨me on my first road bike. Soon swimming followed. I was hooked on multisport. ”¨Little did I know what my “racecourse” would look like.

 

The Diagnosis”¨”¨Even while I was enjoying competing in tris, I knew ”¨something was wrong with me physically. In September 2001, my speech was slurred ”¨and I sounded intoxicated; within days, my speech was unintelligible, to the ”¨point that a co-worker had to call my doctor to explain who I was and why I was ”¨calling. After a CT Scan, a MRI, several blood tests, and one very painful ”¨spinal tap, MS was “ruled out.” A doctor prescribed antibiotics for Lyme disease ”¨and told me to follow up with another MRI in six months. After a few days, my ”¨speech improved. I was content to ignore other minor symptoms.”¨  ”¨  A few months later, I moved to Washington, D.C., and had to convince my ”¨new doctor to send me for the recommended follow-up MRI. She was not concerned ”¨about my slurred speech and never called to discuss my MRI results. Once again, ”¨I chose to ignore my concerns.”¨  ”¨  To my surprise, in February 2004, I was diagnosed with MS, a month before ”¨I was planning to run my first marathon. I hadn’t trained well in weeks: my ”¨balance was off, I kept tripping during runs, and I was losing vision in one ”¨eye. While it occurred to me that this episode could be linked to the one in ”¨2001, I tried to ignore it. When my training stalled, I accepted that I had to ”¨find a new doctor. Prior to my first meeting with the new doctor, I retrieved ”¨the MRI report that compared the old MRI films with the more recent one. The ”¨report read, “Consistent with the progress of the disease.” But there was no ”¨explanation ”“ what disease? What did this statement mean? My new doctor referred ”¨me to a neurologist. As I described my symptoms and experiences to the ”¨neurologist, she stopped me when I said MS had been “ruled out.” She explained ”¨with no test for MS, a person is diagnosed through the elimination of other ”¨diseases. After reviewing my file, she calmly stated, “You have MS.” [I was ”¨absolutely dumbfounded. I was a healthy woman who was just having a little ”¨training trouble. How did I end up diagnosed with MS?

 

Learning to Race With MS”¨”¨I started researching MS online and became frustrated when ”¨the advice to be active was followed with, “Walk to the mailbox each day.” Walk ”¨to the mailbox? I am a runner! I am training for a marathon! I am a triathlete! ”¨I postponed my first marathon, but ran the Marine Corps Marathon later that year ”¨with MS Society’s National Capitol Chapter the Marathon Strides Against MS team. ”¨It was miserable: the weather was hot and I walked most of the second half, but ”¨I finished, swearing it would be my last. But then, I had a unique opportunity ”¨to run the Boston Marathon and be coached by Karen Smyers, seven-time U.S.A. ”¨Triathlon Elite National Champion and winner of the Hawaiian Ironman World ”¨Championship. With her guidance, I trained and ran the 2007 and 2008 Boston ”¨Marathons with the Central New England Chapter of the MS Society. I felt good ”¨enough to squeeze in the 2007 Marine Corps marathon too.

 

Racing With Gratitude”¨”¨I am thankful for every race in which I am able to compete. ”¨Mark Allen said it best: Race with gratitude. “In the heat of competition it’s ”¨easy to get stuck on what is not going well, which causes you to lose sight of ”¨how lucky you are to be able to race”¦ Find that place within yourself that is ”¨grateful to be alive and fit enough to even consider undertaking a triathlon.” ”¨With MS, my understanding of how lucky I am to be able to race is immeasurable. ”¨I am just as grateful for great training days as I am for difficult trainingdays ”¨and races, when everything is a struggle. Recovering from training or a race ”¨reminds me that I can compete when others living with MS may not be able to.”¨  ”¨  I am lucky to have crossed the finish line of multiple marathons, road ”¨races, Bike MS events, and triathlons. I signed up for my first Ironman 70.3 ”¨while watching Ironman Kona. Watching John Blaze, [a triathlete who suffered ”¨from and rose awareness for ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease),] and the athletes he has ”¨motivated to barrel roll across countless finish lines inspired my husband and ”¨me to race while raising awareness about MS. I completed Ironman 70.3 Providence ”¨with the Strike Out MS logo emblazoned across my chest.”¨  ”¨  In my effort to raise awareness about MS, this will be my second year ”¨racing in Strike Out MS gear. Last season, others joined our cause and now also ”¨compete in Strike Out MS tri gear. Fellow racers offer words of encouragement ”¨when they learn I am racing for myself and for others living with MS. If you ”¨have raced, you know how a stranger’s uplifting words keep you moving.”¨  ”¨  Most days, no one can tell that I live with MS; I can almost ignore it ”¨myself. While I have not had many new exacerbations since my diagnosis, I ”¨experience temporary relapses when severely stressed, overheated, or hungry. ”¨Numb hands and feet serve as a quick reminder to slow down, drink fluids, or ”¨eat. Proper training, rest, and nutrition are essential for every athlete, but ”¨the margin for error is smaller with MS.”¨  ”¨  Everyone who stands at the start line has overcome adversity or fear. I ”¨stand at the start line with a deeply personal understanding that our time being ”¨able-bodied is a fleeting gift. When the day comes that I can no longer step to ”¨the start, I will know that I have eked every step and pedal stroke out of life.