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Exercise: are you ready for the challenge?

Of all the aspects of the Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis lifestyle it’s the one area where we can set ourselves goals and beat them.

Breaking boundaries

There’s something about exercise that lends itself to testing the limits, to breaking boundaries. Of all the aspects of the OMS lifestyle it’s the one area where we can set ourselves goals and beat them. Though we may need to look to others for inspiration along the way. My own relationship with exercise began very simply four years ago. I live half way up a steep hill, and I decided

I wanted to be able to walk down to the house immediately below mine, and then run back up to my driveway – a distance of about 30 metres. At the time my legs were in pretty bad shape, and running brought on electric shock symptoms. I was very unfit, and not wanting to spend money on something that might not get much use, I was also wearing thongs (flip-flops).

Steady progress

Four years later and I have just completed a very hilly 9km run, wearing running shoes of course. I also managed a flat 10km run last year. I no longer time my runs – setting the stopwatch makes me run too fast at the start and I give up too soon.

My goal is always to go the distance, to keep going no matter what, to run every step of the way. I find running quite hard, symptoms of numbness in my legs tend to come back as I run, but I also find it amazingly satisfying and energising.

Inspiring voices

Often, the only way I can keep going through the tough parts is to keep in mind some of the inspiring people from the OMS world. People like Phil King, Jack McNulty and OMS founder George Jelinek.

Phil King's endurance

So for this blog I thought it might be helpful to talk to them and find out the motivation behind their exercise regimes, and see what tips they could pass on. Phil King was already exercising regularly when he was diagnosed with MS in October 2012.

He adopted the whole OMS lifestyle within weeks.

“I have always exercised and as soon as I found I had MS there was no way in a month of Sundays that it was going to stop me,” he says. “I did have to slow it down a bit as I was getting really tired and had lots of burning sensations all over me and felt like death half the time.”

After stabilizing his symptoms Phil entered the Kibworth half marathon last year, and says he did it to show that it really is possible to exercise after a diagnosis of MS.

Now he has entered the Ashbourne Triathlon which takes place on May 11th.

“It is a real challenge but I love it. I get up at 7am and cycle 7km to the pool, swim my lengths then cycle home. I cycle to work and back which is 22km and I run.”

Phil also does weights.

“I think I want to show everyone that the OMS lifestyle really works. I truly believe I will be exercising for many years to come.” As an added motivation, Phil is using the triathlon to fundraise for OMS. “It has helped me so much and I want to give something back,” he says.

Jack McNulty on jogging

Jack McNulty was out jogging when he noticed his first MS symptoms in 2009. He has used exercise as a vital part of his recovery.

“I think it is really important to challenge yourself in anything you do in life. For me, exercise is a way I can measure my progress.

It is simple for me to lay out a jogging route of whatever distance, time myself and document my experience. The next time I go out, I simply try to extend myself just a little bit…and when I’m finished I celebrate my achievement. So I get the benefit of the physical workout and the mental pat on the back,” he says.

Competing with oneself 

Jack is not interested in competing with anyone but himself.

“I compete with myself purely because I see each session of exercise as an opportunity to grow, so I push myself and continually seek out new boundaries.

I get a mental high each time I confront these boundaries, and that’s enough to keep me going.”

He also points out that setbacks and failures don’t exist in his world. Not because he always achieves his goals, but because he can see the bigger picture.

“I look for anything unique which deserves a pat on the back, and I celebrate that. For instance, I may have jogged 7.5km yesterday and only completed 5km today. But I know I did the 5km today after working all day – something that I wasn’t able to do a couple of years ago.”

Jack engages in this sort of personal competition to drive him to achieve his best, whether he’s walking, jogging, cycling, swimming or weight training. “I think exercise is critical to my recovery, physically, mentally and spiritually. And the more I exercise, the more it feeds on itself and the better I feel.”

George Jelinek's passion for swimming and running

For George Jelinek exercise is a joy, not just a means to an end.

“I just love to exercise,” he says. “The reason I exercise vigorously every day is not just because the research shows that this keeps you well, it is because it feels so good.

To be able to swim, and have days when it feels like you are swimming out of your skin because you feel so well and so fit, and the sun is shining and the water is clear and sparkling. It just makes me feel so alive.”

George includes running and swimming in his regular exercise routine. “I like to keep my times using a running and swimming watch, and while I am not obsessive about it, to see that every now and then I can push the envelope a bit and get a really good time.”

Last year, for the first time, George challenged himself to running a personal half marathon.

“Doing that just as I was about to turn 60 reaffirmed for me how well I am, how well the OMS program is keeping me, and how wonderful it is to be alive,” he says.

He enters at least one organised fitness event each year.

“I like to do one of these runs every year, like the City to Surf in Perth or the Mother’s Day Classic in Melbourne, or some years both! It’s such a nice feeling to be out there with all those people, all with a common goal, all pushing themselves a little harder than they normally would.”

Exercise at their core

Phil, Jack and George were all keen exercisers before their diagnosis, which is perhaps why they make such inspirational role models now. But from my own experience I have found that even if recovering from MS is your primary motivation to exercise, a lot of satisfaction and pleasure can be gained from it.

And it’s amazing how the moment one challenge is completed, the next one pops into your head. For me it doesn’t matter when I get round to it, only that I have something in mind to work towards, a goal that makes me realise I am constantly getting better. I also take note of my recovery time at the end of a run.

The challenge of exercise

For instance, the first time I completed 5km I staggered in through the front door, collapsed into a chair and stayed there for a full 30 minutes without moving. Today that same run has become my standard route, and I can walk into the house at the end of it, grab a glass of water, and carry on with whatever needs doing – though it’s nice to have a shower first! Please post your comments and share your own exercise challenges on the blog – whether it is walking three steps or running 300km. It would be great to get a sense of how we are approaching exercise as a whole OMS community.

Karen Law

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