Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is an inflammatory disease where the myelin sheaths surrounding nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord are damaged. It’s as if all the wiring in your house slowly became exposed. It can lead to numbness, muscle spasticity, paralysis, and chronic pain. Like schizophrenia, there is a gender dichotomy, but in this case, women are more susceptible than men.
For many, this illness would be debilitating, but for Kayla Montgomery, it’s come as a bit of a boon. Kayla is an 18-year-old runner from North Carolina, and ever since she was diagnosed with MS she’s been getting faster and faster. In Kayla’s case, as her body temperature rises she loses feeling in her legs, which allows her to keep running when muscle pain might stop others. Since her diagnosis, she has moved from a sub par JV runner to one of the top 30 high school runners in the country. However, as soon as she stops running, she collapses in a heap, usually into the arms of her coach who waits just on the other side of the finish line.
Kayla doesn’t want to stop running because she doesn’t know if any given step will be her last, but that doesn’t mean her decision is accepted by all. Although Kayla has been cleared to compete by her family physician, other doctors worry that pushing a body past its limits will lead to issues in the long-term, even if one can’t feel the pain in the short-term. On the other hand, studies have shown that exercise can be a very helpful tool when combating MS. Regular walking is recommended by the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation to enhance stability and balance.
Kayla Montgomery is an amazing example of someone excelling, despite her neurodegenerative disorder. “I make myself do it,” she says, “I tell myself, ‘I know you’re tired and you can’t feel anything and it’s hard but you’re going to finish this.’ And then I do.”
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Crouse, L. (2014, March 3). For Runner With M.S., No Pain While Racing, No Feeling at the Finish. The New York Times , p. A1.
Multiple Sclerosis Foundation. Strategies to Improve Walking, Balance, Strength, and Flexibility Teleconference with Herbert Karpatkin, PT, DSc, NCS, MSCS. Multiple Sclerosis Foundation.
Voskuhl, R., & Gold, S. (2012). Sex-related factors in multiple sclerosis susceptibility and progression. Nature Reviews Neurology , 8 (5), 255-263.