Just Keep Going

I grew up playing sports, but running was never my “thing.”

What I loved was the competition that came with athletics. During the summer, my friends and I would play football until dark when our parents yelled down the street “come home!” As I got older, I would play racquetball for hours, engrossed in the sheer intensity of the game.

But lacing up some shoes and going for a jog around the neighborhood or on a treadmill? No thanks. 

But in the fall of 1998, that all changed. 

I had just graduated from college and wasn’t in the best shape. For the past four years, I had adopted bad habits: consuming the college diet of pizza and beer, staying up too late hanging out with friends or studying, all with little physical activity other than walking to and from class.

Post-college, I had started my first corporate job and was met with late nights at the office, happy hours and once again, very little in the way of aerobic movement.

I didn’t like the way I felt with the extra weight I had put on. So, one Saturday afternoon, I put on my shoes, walked outside… and went running.

The first time must have been a sight to see. Within moments I was huffing and puffing my way through the surrounding neighborhood.

My apartment was right next to a trendy hub of shops, bars and restaurants. My first thought as I was running was - next time, I’m going to do this early in the morning to avoid the crowds of onlookers giggling at my running form, or lack thereof.

The other, more serious, thought was—no matter what, just don’t stop. No walking. Run. I don’t care how slow of a pace it is, just keep going.

I started small. Probably didn’t run for more than ten minutes, just a quick loop back to my apartment.

But each time, I built up more distance. Within a few weeks, I had a pretty good routine going. And soon enough, I was actually starting to feel and look like a runner! I lost a lot of my college weight, felt healthier and even did a 10K.

For many years after, whether I was on a business trip or a vacation in Las Vegas, Hawaii, Denver —through heat, rain or even snow, I was running.

I hadn’t done another 10k but was considering training for a half-marathon and then eventually— maybe a full one. Why not? 

Then in 2007, when I was out for a run, my left leg gave out underneath me, once, then twice as I stumbled back home.  A year later, after lots of other random symptoms, an array of medical tests and a trip to The Mayo Clinic, I was diagnosed with MS. Although I didn’t realize it then, my running days were coming to an end.

It wasn’t a sudden change. I wasn’t told I had MS and woke up the next morning unable to run. It was a subtler progression. 

I would fall down steps at work, easily lose balance while playing basketball and often became overcome with extreme fatigue.

My body would routinely have other flare-ups, causing damage to my vision and speech; even the simple act of standing became painful.

Now it’s 2019, and running is but a distant memory.

I miss running. It’s been a hard transition. I’m still active, just not in the same way. 

Now I go for walks, hike with the family or just take our dog around the block.

My right foot sometimes drags behind my left, courtesy of the traffic jam on the central nervous system freeway.  The struggle, as they say, is real.

The other day as I was limping home, it dawned on me, I might never compete in an actual marathon but, each day with MS, I’m running my own kind of marathon.

Instead of improving my time, speed and distance, MS has decreased my ability to move and increased the time it takes me to do almost anything.

So how do I train for this marathon?

Like I did back in 1998—by doing something—even if it’s small—and not caring if anyone is staring or laughing.

I’m not at the local gym benching my own weight; rather I’m at home working my grip strength and maintaining muscle mass with dumbbells. Instead of running, I walk; sometimes I even do it backwards to work on my balance and foot drop. Often, it’s a family outing—I want my children to see that I’m still mobile, no matter the physical struggle, my will remains. 

MS hasn’t changed who I am inside; somebody that craves competition, progress and fitness.

I see the mile markers and although the pace is slower on this Life Less Traveled marathon, I’ve got the same motto… just keep going.
Tags Healthcare, Healthy Living      2 Appreciate this

Michael Wentink, Blogger

In 2008, Michael Wentink was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. At 31, he was a new father, a recent MBA graduate and a Director at a Fortune 500 company. MS altered this path and after an early retirement, Michael is now navigating life on a road less traveled. A native of Northern Virginia, Michael currently resides in San Antonio, Texas with his wife and two young children. Read about his journey with multiple sclerosis at mjwentink.com and follow him on Twitter.