The spirit of the walk

Written by on June 29, 2009 at 12:01 pm

In 2003, I saw a flyer for the MS Challenge Walk in a sandwich shop in Wakefield, Mass.  I flipped through it while I eagerly waited for my dinner. I thought, "50 miles — I can do that." My only connection to MS was that I wanted to walk in honor of my great-grandmother, who had lived with MS for more than 40 years. I signed up.

A few months later, I drove down to Hyannis the night before the walk, completely naive to what "challenge" meant. I had no expectations other than taking in the moment and people and walking the 50 miles.

Over those first 50 miles, I talked to anyone and everyone I could. I asked people why they were walking, what their relationship was to MS, why they volunteer, and how they fight their MS battle. As a physical therapist, I thought that what I learned from others, I would be able to use and share with my patients.

I quickly learned that participating in the MS Challenge Walk was not about the walking part at all. It wasn't about how many miles you did or didn't walk. It wasn't about how long it took you, if you survived without blisters or not, or how much money you fundraised compared to your bunkmates.  The walk had a feeling.

I had never partaken in an event that was so emotionally charged and moving. I was astounded by the energy, the smiles, the hugs, the cheers, the courage and strength people exuded, the encouragement from volunteers to carry on, and the spirit found in the hundreds of people I spent the weekend with — all for the common cause of fighting MS and hoping for a cure.

That is the reason I keep on walking.

This will be my sixth year walking in the MS Challenge Walk. Things have changed, though. In 2004, I began having symptoms myself, and I was diagnosed with MS in 2006. It is ironic that I chose to participate on a whim in 2003, and now I struggle with the physical symptoms and the decline that my body has endured due to MS. In the, past I have pushed and forced myself stubbornly to walk the whole 50 miles, but the thing that has carried me through it all has been the spirit of other walkers and volunteers.

It is extremely difficult to put something so emotional, something so powerful into words. When I flip back through pictures and watch video that I took, and when I share it with friends and family, I tear up. They are tears of happiness, fullness and peacefulness, for it brings forward the intense emotions and spirit that the MS Challenge Walk creates.

It's not about the miles; it's about the people. It's about you.

Heather lives in Hampton, NH, and completed her first 50 miles in 2003 in honor of her great-grandmother who had MS. Ironically, she began having symptoms in 2004, and was finally diagnosed with MS in 2006. This will be her 6th walk, and her first as team captain of "All Smiles for 50 Miles". Heather recruited 7 friends to walk, and her mom to volunteer on the Crew. Heather is a pediatric physical therapist in NH.

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