'Biking has truly changed my life'
GOAL: To complete in the MS Citrus Tour 100 miles.
WHY I DID IT: In January 2005, I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). It was just six months after I adopted my two daughters, who were 6 and 7 years old at the time. I wasn't responding well to the drugs available on the market; my mobility and ability to work full time declined rapidly. I gained weight from not having enough energy. Then, in 2009, I was hospitalized. My doctor told me I had to be on a MS modification drug going forward. Since I had become either allergic or intolerant of the approved drugs on the market, I was placed in the clinical trials for the first oral MS medicine. I started to show signs of improvement, and I was able to return to work full time and started volunteering for the MS Society.
While volunteering for an event in November 2010, I met a woman who had grandchildren as old as my children, and she completed a 200-mile relay race. I thought to myself, “I have MS, but what is my excuse for not challenging myself and trying to make myself as healthy as I possibly can?” Not only did I owe that to myself, but also to my daughters. Not to mention, what a great family bonding experience it would be take on this challenge together!
HOW I DID IT: Pure determination and support from my daughters and friends is how I was able to accomplish riding in three different Bike MS tours in two years. I had to push myself and fight through the fatigue.
To get started, I had to purchase a road bike with pedals, computer, helmet and proper attire, costing approximately $1,100.
I started hitting the trails and riding as many miles as I could. Then I started attending training rides, to get over my fear of riding in traffic.
Our first Bike MS tour in 2011 was difficult, and the hills were too great for us; we had to catch a support vehicle through a portion of the course. In preparation for the 2012 Bike MS tour, we had to conquer hills on a bike. One of the keys to hill-climbing is to be able to stand up and pedal. For some unknown reason, this did not come naturally to us. After discussing our challenge with other cyclists, they recommended we practice in spin class. We joined a gym and after a few months of spin class, we were all standing up, conquering those hills like pros!
HURDLES: One of the most painful hurdles I had as a beginner was learning how to ride with clip pedals. It took me three months to master them. I became very familiar with road rash, bruises that looked like Van Gogh's Starry Night, kinesiology tape as a fashion accessory and my chiropractor. It didn't matter how many times I fell, I would pick myself up and keep trying.
Most people with MS have an intolerance to heat and humidity. Living in Florida, heat and humidity is unavoidable. Determined to continue my biking through the summer, I had to keep my core temperature cool while still pushing myself to excel. Freezing water bottles and wearing the white reflective back jerseys was a necessity. I tied cooling rags around my neck and I put on a wet jersey.
The majority of MS patients suffer from fatigue. So what did I do when fatigue set in and I had biked 20 miles away from my car with no one to call? The only choice I had was to push through, knowing I would not be able to go as fast as I wanted and might have to stop to rest more than usual, but in the end I will finish and rejoice that I did it.
GOING THE DISTANCE: I started making friends who cycled and was able to start biking more often in group rides. A group of us decided we would do the Bike MS North Florida ride in September 2012. This meant I had to continue my training through the hot summer and practice the long-distance rides. The first day of this route was 85 miles, which I'm happy to say I finished! I discovered that I trained better in group rides. And knowing someone will always stay back with me and help me get back to the shop if necessary gives me the peace of mind to attempt them.
Biking helped me lose weight and gain muscle tone. I no longer walk with an abnormalgait or need a cane. My physical endurance is better than before my MS diagnoses. Biking does exhaust me, but the endorphins I get from it make me feel better for days.
BEST ADVICE: Have patience with yourself. Everybody wants to be able to go fast and hang with the guys who have been doing it for years. As long as you stick with it and continue to work hard at it, you will progress. Biking has truly changed my life -- not only because I'm healthier, but because it helped keep me out of a wheelchair. It has enabled me to meet so many new friends and stay socially connected.
I Made It is a regular feature highlighting individual health success stories and does not reflect the opinions of 4you, which encourages you to work with a physician or trained professional. To share your story, visit TBO.com, search Lost It; or email firstname.lastname@example.org; or mail to 4you, The Tampa Tribune, 202 S. Parker St., Tampa FL 33606.