Note: It's not too late to register for the January Jam, just submit the yardage you've already completed retroactively. The Jam will be open to new participants until January 31st!
~By Kristen Adams
Two years ago I was writing my shopping list on the pad stuck to the refrigerator door when I dropped the pencil. I bent down to pick it up, but as much as my brain told my fingers to grip, they just wouldn't respond. Picking it up in my left hand, and jamming into my right, I concentrated on pushing the pencil across the paper. No luck. Hmm. I had been tinkering with my stroke, and I figured I pinched a nerve in my neck. I went to a doctor who prescribed steroids, and after a few buzzed and agitated weeks I was better. Better, except for the lingering numbness in my right arm and these weird electrical tingles running up and down both arms and legs, like I was plugged in to a wall socket. Over the next few months I began to notice other symptoms: my left side weaker than my right, disorienting dizzy spells, alternating periods of pain, burning and numbness in my legs and feet. Debilitating fatigue, especially after a hard work out.
One year, seven MRIs, at least 25 vials of blood, and one spinal tap later I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. And that was the easy part. I have a good doctor and good drugs, but there is no cure for MS. The medicine "works" by slowing the progression of the disease, so my goal is to be as strong, fit and healthy as I can be until my own immune system takes me down.
Swimming is the one thing holding me together right now, and its kind of ironic considering my love-hate relationship with the pool over the years. (I love to swim; hate to race.) I joined my first swim team when I was six, but even after all these years the smell of chlorine sparks an adrenaline rush, sets the butterflies off in my stomach and sends me running to the bathroom to pee. I'll never get used to it. It's funny how things work out. At first I blamed my symptoms on swimming, but I also wouldn't have noticed them if I weren't so attuned to my body because of my workouts.
I struggle with the news, as people do. I fear the day when the weakness in my arms and numbness in my legs becomes full blown paralysis. I have a great husband, but really, when the "worse" in "for better or worse" reveals itself, who is ready for it? And I worry that my two little boys won't have enough time with the Mom who has energy before the MS-related fatigue can't be chased away with the drugs I take. I fear the day I become the sick wife, or the sick mom.
So I'm doing what I can to beat it back. It turns out swimming is one of the best exercises for people with MS, as overheating can trigger a relapse. And we all know what an intense workout you can get in the water.
Then, there are my amazing teammates. They support me at practice, encouraging me to keep showing up even when I'm too tired or dizzy to swim, and they don't let me dog it in the middle of a set. And my Coach Dean, who when I was at my weakest helped me to find my baseline so we could track my strength and my symptoms - to know when to push it and when to cool it. No matter how I feel when I get in the water - tired, weak or trembling - I always feel the same when I get out: strong, calm, and graceful. I feel like a swimmer. And nothing can beat that.
nice write up Kristen. It's certainly inspirational.
Your children can't ask for a more courageous role model.
Your story brought me to tears. I couldn't even imagine what you and your family must be going through or how you must be feeling. I would imagine very scared.
Despite what the future holds (one never really knows, do they?) remain strong, find the support you need and live each and every day to the fullest. Easier said than done, I’m sure but so true. Regardless of the trials and tribulations life throws at us, we can find comfort in being around the ones we love, doing the things love to do and finding the joy in everything touch. (And let the “little stuff” go.)
I wish you the best of luck through this journey. Keep on swimming. You have a great coach.
Here's a blog from another gentleman who's using swimming as part of his MS therapy.
I am Jamming this month for MS and my son who had brain surgery after getting his skull crushed playing soccer. He is an inspiration...so are you. Fight on...we are all swimming for your life and all others.