Kayla Montgomery, from Winston-Salem, North Carolina is, by all appearances, a normal high school student. Her parents described her as an artsy young girl who loved to play dress up. Because she liked to play by herself, they encouraged her to take up team sports and she began to play soccer.
Her life suddenly changed when she experienced a loss of feeling in her feet unexpectedly. In 2010, Kayla was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a condition that causes the immune system to attack healthy nerve cells. There is no cure for this condition. Her mother, a healthcare worker, was struck with images of MS patients in wheelchairs and hospital beds unable to care for themselves. This was not the life she had expected for her daughter. While Kayla had to give up soccer, she didn’t have to give up physical activity. Instead, she turned to running.
It was then that she met Coach Patrick Cromwell who believed she could still push for more and make the most out of every day. While she wasn’t expected to perform at competitive levels, she was held accountable as if she would.
MS symptoms are triggered by heat and running generates intense body heat. As she runs, Kayla doesn’t feel pain but she also doesn’t feel anything in her legs. They become mental extensions rather than physical limbs. At first, without feeling in her legs, it was difficult to pace herself. But over time she got faster. She soon became the fastest girl in North Carolina and was regularly training with the boys team. Her coach, Cromwell, pushes her just enough.
But his support is more than just emotional. Because she doesn’t have feeling in her legs while running, Kayla doesn’t have the ability to control her stop. Cromwell waits at the finish line for her every race. He literally catches Kayla as she collapses.
On the surface, Kayla’s running is panic inducing. She’s asked why she continues to do it even though she has such as strong reaction at the finish line. She says that running makes her feel whole. It makes her feel safe from herself. Once she cools down after the race there is no permanent damage, so she continues to run. She wants to get every movement out of her legs while she still can.
Inside multiple sclerosis
MS is a chronic pain condition. The immune system attacks the protective nerve sheathing, called myelin, which in turn disrupts the signals from the nerves to the brain. The exact cause is still unknown. Over time, the nerves will continue to deteriorate and the result is irreversible. Common symptoms of multiple sclerosis include fatigue and numbness. Over time, patients can lose their vision and suffer from paralysis and diminished brain function.
While there is no cure, there are a variety of treatments that can slow symptoms and make life more comfortable for multiple sclerosis patients and delay the long-term symptoms. Corticosteroids and plasma exchange therapies can help patients recover from attacks and there are a number of drugs on the market that can slow progression. Patients often get good results from physical therapy and muscle relaxants as well.
The inspiration of Kayla
Kayla’s story isn’t just a feel-good human interest piece; it can be a metaphor for individuals dealing with the daily effects of multiple sclerosis. Just as her coach physically catches her in his arms after every race, people who find inspiration in Kayla’s story can use it to figure out the people and things that can catch them when they’re down.
Watching Kayla run is impressive. When you hear her literally beg for help as she is carried off the track you can’t help but wonder why she does it, and yet it is clear that she has to. Running is the one thing that inspires her, and her story inspires all of us.
Running doesn’t have to be your go-to activity to pick yourself up when you fall. Let Kayla’s story inspire you to find joy in the little things every day. You don’t even have to look outside of yourself. You may not even realize it, but your own life can be your everyday inspiration.
- What makes you curious? Continuously learning and challenging yourself can be a great way to keep your mind active and find inspiration. The internet makes it even easier to learn new things when you have a curious thought. When you see something you want to know more about, make a point to learn.
- What gives you joy? You don’t have to be a risk taker to find joy in your life. You don’t have to jump out of an airplane or run until you can’t feel your legs to feel alive. Look at the little things around you. Do you love to garden? Do you paint? Does listening to music make you feel calm?
- What are you good at? Every single person on this planet has a talent. Explore that. When you are good at something, you get a sense of accomplishment by performing these tasks. Focus on what makes you feel like a complete and whole person.
- Whose company do you enjoy? People with a strong support network have more opportunity to find inspiration in their lives. Who around you makes you feel good about yourself? Foster the best relationships and let toxic friends go so you can concentrate on what makes you a better person.
Just like Kayla, you can find purpose in the little things you do and the people who encourage you to do them.
Are you inspired by Kayla’s story?
Image by Dean Hochman via Flickr