When former Air Force Captain Karla Clay was diagnosed with MS in 2001, she felt her life came to a halt.
We talked with Karla about her MS journey, and how the upcoming 40th National Veteran Wheelchair Games has helped her find a community, and ultimately, a sense of purpose.
“All my life I’ve been out going, but after MS advanced, it kind of put the brakes on things,” Clay says. “My world really became the four walls here (at home). I became non-existent practically.”
The kept her diagnosis a secret and found herself living a very reclusive lifestyle.
“I was not ‘out’ so to speak at work. I hadn’t told anybody I had MS,” Clay says. “I just didn’t want them to know because I didn’t know what their reaction would be. I didn’t want to be a spectacle. When I first came to the Veteran’s Health Administration (VA), I was very reclusive – even there.”
Her doctor at the Veterans Health Administration Multiple Sclerosis Centers of Excellence recommended she join the Wheelchair Games team.
“My first response was I’m not athletic. I’m not going to make the team,” Clay says. “They told me, ‘no, no, no. Anybody can play.’”
Little did she know, this competition would be the spark she needed to change her life. She began working with the VA’s team of strength and recreation therapists and quickly emerged from her shell with a newfound self-confidence.
“It was fun to see how I progressed,” she says. “There’s something infectious about it – being at the games, being with all the other competitors. I finally felt like and feel like I’m an athlete.”
Through the VA’s Comprehensive MS Care Center, Karla connected to not only the physical support, but also the emotional and social support she needed to live her best life.
“I’m involved with the MS support group. I was skeptical about joining the group, but they were warm and engaging and inviting, and I’ve really developed some good friendships."
Karla is now committed to making a difference in the lives of others by volunteering with other veterans and participating in Walk MS.
“It’s important to stay involved and not allow yourself to become a recluse – just sitting back and watching the world go by on your cell phone. That closes you off and makes your life a little dimmer, a little smaller. I think it’s important for veterans to not just stay stuck in the corner, but to come out and step out into the center and live their life.”
Editor’s note: Learn more about the wheelchair games. Hear more of Karla’s story. Learn more about the National MS Society’s partnership with the Veterans Health Administration.