Thanksgiving is this week, a time when people give thanks for many things – a home, food to eat, a job, their family and friends. For me, and probably for Kayla Montgomery, the thing I am the most grateful for is the ability to move, and especially to run. Most people probably don’t even think about the ability to move as a gift. But for Kayla and me, it is something that we do not take for granted because both of us have neurological conditions that could result in losing the ability to move.
At 14, following a soccer injury, Kayla was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS). It was a devastating diagnosis for an active teenage girl. For 8 months following her diagnosis, she did nothing but sit in her room. Then she decided if she couldn’t play soccer, she would run. And boy did she. Kayla became the fastest female runner in North Carolina while competing in the 3200 meter event for her high school track team.
Kayla’s MS creates challenges for her when she runs because she loses feeling in her legs. It begins in her toes and moves up her legs to her waist. The loss of feeling is triggered by the increased body temperature as she runs. Kayla can run very fast because she can’t feel her legs, can’t feel the pain from over exertion. But because she can’t feel her legs, she collapsed every time she crossed the finish line. Kayla’s coach had to stand at the finish line to catch her.
Immediately following a race, they had to cool her body down as fast as possible so that her symptoms would subside. For Kayla that is just the cost of competing. I have to admire how tough this young woman is. As she lay on the ground being iced down after a race, she could be heard asking “Do you know what my time was?” A true runner – through and through.
I was stunned when Kayla said in an interview that some consider her condition an unfair advantage in a race. Who in their right mind would want that kind of advantage? Anyone who says that is incredibly insensitive. I can guarantee you that Kayla would prefer to not have MS.
You may think that Kayla is taking a big risk by running. But running makes her feel whole again. There is no guarantee that she will be able to run in a few years. Kayla wants to get every moment of movement out of her legs as she can.
I understand exactly how Kayla feels. I have Transverse Myelitis (TM), another inflammatory disorder of the central nervous system where the immune system attacks the nervous system. Although TM is often a one-time illness, for some people, TM is an early symptom of MS. Similar to Kayla, I get tingling sensations in my legs when I run. Running in hot weather is a challenge for me because those symptoms become more pronounced. I have learned ways to keep my core cool during warm weather races such as putting bags of ice inside my shirt or wrapping ice in a bandana around my neck.
Sometimes I feel like I am a bit fanatical about running in marathons and half marathons. But like Kayla, I don’t know if/when I will lose the ability to run. When my doctor told me last year to go run every race I want to do, I took that as a warning sign. I don’t want to regret not taking advantage of every chance to get out there and race. I want to have lots of great memories of being part of the excitement as I cross a finish line.
On Thursday, when I sit down for our Thanksgiving feast, I will pause to say thanks, thanks for the ability to move. Because it is a gift that none of us should take for granted.
Here is a video about Kayla’s high school running career. It includes video of her last run for her high school team. If you enjoy nail-biter finishes, you won’t want to miss this!