It is no secret that I have Multiple Sclerosis aka MS. This is one of the most bizarre diseases out there. Everyone’s MS is different. If you have known me for most of my life you more than likely have witnessed some of the ways MS affects me.
On the other hand, if you have known me through the biking world you may think I am just fine. One of my worst symptoms is very silent to those around me. Did you know that Cognitive Challenges is one of the main MS symptoms It is so incredibly frustrating. As a child, I felt stupid and was often embarrassed by this symptom. The cognitive condition occurs when a lesion (area of nerve damage) occur in certain locations in the brain. Examples: One may have difficulty finding the right words to say, or trouble remembering what to do during a simple routine (I call this hitting a wall with my thoughts), multi-tasking, foggy thoughts, one-dimensional thinking. These symptoms come and go at any time which is good as well as bad. So needless to say I am frustrated quite often. If you ever hear me say “I can’t talk” now you know the reason behind it. Imagine trying to get ready for a stage race day after day when multitasking is nearly impossible. Not only is it frustrating it is also exhausting.
One of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society ‘s slogans is “But You Look So Good”. Being an athlete with MS I believe in my heart, exercise is one of the main 3 things in which has helped me do so well while living with MS. When you are a competitive athlete you have to have your mind in the right place for success. If you are always doing the very best you can then you are avoiding setting yourself up for failure. Doing the best you can as an athlete means training properly, eating well, getting plenty of sleep and most importantly “learning to listen to your body, heart, and mind”. This actually goes hand in hand with living successfully with Multiple Sclerosis. The heart and the head will tell you different things. The heart is the passion and the head is smart. Both are important in order to live successfully with MS as well as being a good athlete. A wonderful coach, friend, and mentor has taught me all of this pertinent information.
This all brings me to Kimberly Flynn Fasczewski. Kym has been my coach in cycling since I believe 2008. Over the years we have grown together in many ways. She has taught me so much in life just through cycling. It never occurred to me how I would learn to deal with my MS just by being an athlete. Since working with Kym, she has earned a Masters in Research Psychology with an emphasis on sport and exercise behaviors. She received her Ph.D. in Kinesiology with a focus on Health and Exercise Science at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. This girl did all of this while teaching university classes, owning Vantaggio Fitness and Nutrition, coaching, running an elite all women’s cycling team, racing as a professional in the road, mountain bike, fat bike` and cyclocross areas, wife, friend and student just to name a few.
While working on her degree, Kym was awarded the Kate Barrett Professional Development Award. She got to study during the summer in Illinois with one of the top researchers in her field. She spent 2-3 weeks at the University of Illinois working with Dr. Rob Motl. Dr. Motl’s research focuses on the social-cognitive determinants and mental health consequences of physical activity participation with a particular focus on MS. (which was the topic of Kym’s dissertation).
Together Kym and I have learned not only what works for me as an athlete living with MS but also we have realized just how little information there is in the world of how effective exercise can be for someone living with MS. The face of MS has radically changed since my diagnosis as I have mentioned in my first blog. Back in the earlier days, they would completely discourage exercise to those diagnosed. Most everyone knows someone affected by MS. Usually I hear people say “I knew a lady/man who lived across the street who was bound to a wheelchair and they died of MS”. I would like to say that no one ever dies from MS. They may die of complications they had while living with MS. Times have so changed and they will continue to make radical changes due to people with a passion (the Heart) to do research like Kym to help make a difference in as many peoples lives as she can. It is obvious to me and many others that Kym is just at the beginning of making a difference in the world. I myself share the same passion for helping people with any adversity to live life to the fullest. “Find A Way”
Kym found her way to this point in life and received her Ph.D. She continues her research for the benefits of exercise and Multiple Sclerosis. She is now serving as Assistant Professor of the Department of Health and Exercise Science at Appalachian State University.
It will be interesting to see where life will continue to take us. One thing is for certain, We are “Paying It Forward”. Thank you! Kym, for helping me get to this point in my life. As Kym says to me “I speak Grace” so it is ok!!!