A walk of a lifetime

Written by on July 15, 2009 at 11:22 am

For Heather, every year isn't just another 50 miles; it's a new personal reason to tackle the MS Challenge Walk. Here are her inspirations.

I have completed five MS Challenge Walks and have walked all 250 miles. I have walked each year for different reasons and with different perspective.

In 2003, I walked in honor of my great-grandmother, who had MS. She began having symptoms when she was in her early 20s. I remember her in the 1980s, first walking with a walker and braces on both her legs. Then she wasn't able to walk at all, and she was usually in her recliner or her wheelchair. Her MS eventually left her with one functioning arm. She passed away in the late 1980s, in her late 60s, of complications due to MS. She was strong, she endured pain and loss, and she retained her sense of humor. Even though she sat in her chair, I was terrified of her threat of "I'll get the fly swatter!" Every walk, I walk for her.

In 2004, I chose not to walk because I was battling symptoms of my own and fighting to find out what plagued my once strong, athletic, never-tiring body. I knew what I had.

Then 2005 rolled around, and one of my aunts (a non-blood relative) was diagnosed with MS. This prompted my Aunt Patty to join me for the 2005 MS Challenge Walk. To be honest, that year, I walked out of anger. I was angry because I still did not have a definite diagnosis. I was angry that my family and friends did not understand what I was going through. I was angry because, despite having my aunt with me, I felt alone. I looked around at the MS Challenge Walk and was envious of the support that others had from friends and family, not only along the walk route, but in their battle with MS. At the finish line, I stared at the shirts on the table; blue for non-MS and red for MS. What color was I to wear for possible MS?

After my definite diagnosis of MS in early 2006, I walked out of relief. My doctors and my family finally had answers, and I had confirmation. I walked because I could. I walked with hope that no one  else would have to experience the physical and emotional pains that I had.

I walked in 2007 to raise awareness. I wanted people to hear my story, to learn about MS, and to support all of us living with and fighting MS every day. I walked because I longed for the support, the spirit, and the camaraderie of others with different stories bonded by the fight to cure MS.

I signed up for 2008 mostly out of stubbornness ("typical MS personality"?), and with the intent of simply enjoying myself and the company of hundreds of other walkers and volunteers touched by MS. For three days, I felt like I belonged and like I was not alone in my journey. I rather enjoyed myself!

At the finish line in 2008, I eagerly signed up for the 2009 MS Challenge Walk. This past year, however, has been a tough MS year for me. I am 31, I work full time, I live alone and am self supporting. I have suffered many changes in my symptoms and in my body, and I do not have the sam stamina and ability to walk as I have in past years. My friends and family keep asking me, "Why then are you even going to attempt to walk 50 miles"? Because it's about more than just the miles and the walking. Because I can still walk, and I want to keep walking. Because it's about the hearts, and soles, of all of us hoping for lives without MS.

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.

4 Comments so far ↓

  1. Sandy says:

    Though I won't be walking, I'll be right there with you Heather. Don't ever feel alone in your battle!

  2. Patty Patty Thorpe says:

    Wow. Heather, this brought me to tears. One of the wonderful things about the Challenge Walk is that we get to be with people who are experiencing the same things and find we're not alone. Your post was so strong and from the heart. Thank you for writing it.

    • Heather Heather says:

      Thanks Patty! The Challenge Walk and all the people mean so much more to me than I could ever put into words. Of course, one day I hope we're not walking to cure MS, but having a party to say "Ha, we CURED MS!" I'll see you at the Walk!