MSAthlete: one survivor’s paradox
Multiple Sclerosis (MS), an unpredictable and disabling disease, is often characterised by fatigue, motor weakness, spasticity, and poor balance. An athlete is a person who is trained in sports requiring stamina, physical strength and agility. I have MS and I am an athlete.
Diagnosed over fifteen years ago, I believed that minimizing stress levels – including physical stress – was the best way to manage my disease. I spent my first 10 years with MS doing nothing to help myself.
I was tired all the time and had built my career around working from home so I didn’t have to venture outside. I was hiding behind my disease.
Becoming unhealthier as each day lapsed I feared I would one day lose my independence. I had tingles up my spine daily, felt numbness in my toes and fingers and was constantly worried I would lose my vision. I was clearly in a downward spiral and had to do something.
I woke up one morning and decided to change two things in my life. The first was to become a vegan and the second was to begin exercising. Why a vegan? Simple, it was a quick energy gain. Energy I was not using to digest heavy foods, such as meat, would be available for exercise.
And my chosen form of exercise? Swimming. My biggest fear with exercise was the probability of overheating and exacerbating my MS. Since swimming meant exercising in a cool pool I hoped to minimize the chance of this happening. I started slowly, with a length or two at a time. I swam first thing in the morning, went home and napped for an hour and then worked until lunch. I headed back to the pool at noon and then again in the evening, always resting my body as much as it needed after each swim.
Within a two month period I managed to gain enough strength to swim 1 kilometre at each session. Eventually I joined a masters’ swim team and began competing. A few years later I hooked up with competitive dragon boat and outrigger crews, added weightlifting, spinning and other forms of exercise. I now work full-time outside of my home. My energy has increased, the constant state-of-tingles has stopped and although I know I may one day lose my vision again, I no longer live my life based on that fear.
I am now living with, rather than in fear of, my MS. I believe that exercising, which places a certain type of stress on my body, is how I will survive my disease. Although I know my chosen path is not for everyone with MS, I do hope to learn how others have used fitness and nutrition to battle their disease.
If you are someone using fitness and/or nutrition to battle your disease I encourage you to contact me so we can share your story with others.