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Climb every mountain

Written by on August 5, 2013 at 11:00 am

About ten years ago, I heard four words that changed my life: "You have multiple sclerosis." I had no idea what MS was, nor did I know anyone with MS. There was tingling in my arms, I felt fatigued a lot, and my right leg would drag to the point that I had trouble crossing a room. My symptoms would come and go, and I never knew when I would have another relapse or how long it would last. I was married with a 2-year-old and afraid of how I would be able to take care of my son and myself. Working was out of the question — how could I work while having MS? I felt alone and scared. I soon slipped into a major depression.

Eventually, I joined support groups and met other people with MS. They helped me understand that I was not alone. My spirits started to lift. As the years went by, I grew more confident.

A few years ago, someone showed me a mountain. "Do you want to go climbing?" he asked. I said, "Are you nuts? I have MS! There's no way I could climb a mountain. What if I start having problems? What if my leg dies out on me? What if…." Since I got diagnosed, these questions often stopped me, but my friend convinced me to try, promising I had to go only as far as I felt comfortable. I relented and, once I made the decision to climb, decided to go as far as I could. I actually made it to the top of the mountain! It was a small mountain, but a mountain nonetheless. The view from the top was amazing — but even more amazing, my attitude started changing. If I can climb a mountain, I wonder what else I can do? I realized that the "what ifs" were causing me to miss more of my life than I realized.

Marisa climbing Mt. Monadock

Just keep climbing!

The feeling of conquering something I never thought I could do was almost addictive. I wanted to climb again. The second time was not as easy, but I was determined. Slowly and steadily, I made it to the peak. But the problem with going up a mountain is you have to go back down! The concept seems obvious, but it really hits hard when you can barely get your leg over a single rock. There is no other way off the mountain: you just keep plugging along until you get to the bottom. No way did I want to do that again!

But, being the stubborn person I am, I climbed again and again. Some times were easier than others, and there were more times I swore I would never go again. Each time, I was terrified that my MS would take my legs — but I always went anyway. Now, each year I challenge myself to bigger mountains. What drives me to climb is the same question that once stopped me: "What if?" What if my legs get so bad this will be the last mountain I can climb? What if I don't climb this year … would I regret it when I can't next year?

Over the past three years, I have climbed some sizable mountains in New England, many of them 4,000+ footers. Each had its own challenge, but they also provided amazing views and feelings of accomplishment. Last year I climbed Mt. Adams, the seconds highest mountain in New England. I still can't believe I made it to the top above the clouds. It was amazing!!

Marisa atop Mt. Monadnock

The view from the top is incredible!

This year, I am training even harder, because on August 9th, I will attempt Mt. Washington, the highest mountain in New England. Imagine! Me, who has MS and was scared to do anything, climbing the highest mountain in New England! Four years ago, climbing Mt. Washington was a crazy idea — but here I am, crazy as ever and ready to climb.

All of us with MS have our own mountains to climb: walking around the block or to the mailbox; standing for a moment to take a photo with your child who is getting married; going out with friends, playing with your kids (or grandkids), volunteering at an event, or inspiring people with a speech. We have our good days and our bad days. We do what we can, when we can; if we can't, that's okay too. Let's use our bad days to rest and plan for our next good days.

We have MS, but MS doesn't always have us! Climb those mountains!

(Follow Marisa on Facebook as she tackles Mt. Washington this Friday!)

Marisa, a resident of Central Massachusetts, was diagnosed with MS in 2003.  In 2004, she heard about the MS Challenge Walk and decided to try to walk the 50 miles.  Right before the walk, her MS caught up with her and she could not walk that year.  She asked what else she could do and was told about the being a part of the crew.  Marisa fell in love with being a crew member and has spent several years working the Big Top Tent.

Winter exercises to keep the body moving

Written by on November 8, 2010 at 10:19 am

If you live in New England, this morning's mushy mess followed by this evening's early sunset will confirm what you've long been fearing: winter is here.

Fortunately, us northerners are made of hardy stock that will survive the long, cold, dark season, an experience that will make the spring shedding of scarves for shorts all the sweeter. Then our bones will creak and muscles stretch as we start to get back in shape for the MS Challenge Walk. Any doctor will tell you that health is something easier to retain than regain. So how can we keep in shape all year long and not just when it's warm out?

There are plenty of aerobic exercises you can enjoy year-round, regardless of the weather. The most obvious answer is to join a gym or the Y, where you can walk and run on treadmills, use step machines, or join dance and yoga classes. But being cooped up indoors is not always the answer for winter doldrums, especially at the rates some gyms charge.

Cross Country Skiing along Great Glen TrailsIf you prefer to be outdoors taking advantage of the unique opportunities offered by the cold, try cross-country skiing. The Cross Country Ski Areas Association lists eight trails in Massachusetts alone, with more throughout the region.

Or, if you're like our stalwart leader of the bike crew, you can ride your bicycle, even in the snow. has more details on taking this risk.

Personally, I enjoy contra dancing. It's a smoke-free, alcohol-free, family-friendly activity that accommodates all skill levels, especially beginners. Live music and fun people combine in a routine that's the equivalent of walking several miles. (Seriously — they've measured the distance traveled by dancing feet!)

How do you keep your body moving in the winter? Share your suggestions in the comments below!

Ken joined the MS Challenge Walk in 2005, more than a decade after his mother was diagnosed. After walking for three years and 150 miles, he switched to the support crew and now rides his bicycle along the trail, providing whatever encouragement (and snacks!) he can to the 600 walkers. He is also an alumnus of the event's steering committee and is this site's webmaster.