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Rewiring the Body by Chris Cooper - CrossFit Journal

Rewiring the Body

By Chris Cooper

In Medical/Injuries

May 19, 2010

PDF Article

Chris Cooper talks about multiple sclerosis and how trainers can try to help athletes with the disease.

Pam Didonato is 45 years old. She just set a Murph PR, breaking 40 minutes for the first time. She rows 500 meters in under two minutes. She can finish Fran in under 5 minutes.

Pam also has multiple sclerosis. She needs a cane to walk. Her right knee is 30 degrees hyperextended, and she has a drop foot. Diagnosed at 18, Pam’s been fighting MS her entire adult life. Six years ago, she let me be her “fitness caddy.” Last year, she started CrossFit.

Pam competes: she’s done Fight on Friday, Baseline Week, FranFest and now Murph with her Catalyst Fitness family in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. She usually drags a few friends with her to watch. This year, we invited her physiotherapists and chiropractors. Every year, Pam meets with a specialist in London, Ont., to measure the progress of the disease against her nervous system. There isn’t much. Pam’s simply not regressing.

She takes no drugs, does physiotherapy only intermittently and sees a massage therapist every two months. While it’s exciting—heck, it’s absolutely elating—to watch Pam, it occurs to me to ask questions. Why isn’t she devolving like everyone else with MS? Why is exercise helping? Why isn’t she confined, by now, to a rolling chair?

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9 Comments on “Rewiring the Body”


wrote …

Chris, thank you for this article. Good luck to you and to Pam.


wrote …

Awesome. This will be very helpful in convincing someone I know about the benefits of exercise. Have you seen Cordains piece on Paleo and MS? And and if so did it help?


wrote …

It's great to see so many people benefit from CrossFit, here's one of our athletes story, she too suffers from MS and has had enourmous gains through CrssFit and Paleo.
Her name is Trisha Hadden ad she's my Hero!!

Let me begin by telling you I was diagnosed with MS in December 2008. I cannot emphasize enough on the how fantastic I feel. (Or, should I say FRANtastic, for those of you who crossfit.) To date, I’ve lost close to 50 pounds and went from a size 12 to a 4. I have so much more energy, rarely have any cognitive difficulties, fatigue, and/or chronic pain. Here is my story:
In October 2008 I completely lost all my communication skills. When I say “all”, I mean I couldn’t speak, read and write and after a while I just forgot what I was trying to communicate in the first place. I did not know the difference between the alphabet letters and definitely could not put a word or a sentence together. I would constantly bump into things. Finally, one day a very dear friend of mine made a doctor’s appointment for me and after a MRI was performed, the results came back with 5 lesions in my brain. (No wonder why I was having so many difficulties, right?) Within a matter of 3 days, I was sent to the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, AZ where they performed every test you can imagine, including a brain biopsy. Once they figured out it was MS, I was put on Rebif in January 2009 and felt the worst I have ever felt and it was by far the darkest and worst time of my life. After suffering with chronic pain, depression, and chronic fatigue I decided to stop injecting myself with Rebif and other prescribed medical treatments in September 2009. I began my journey at Crossfit El Paso in October 2009 and immediately noticed a difference in my MS symptoms and especially bonus point- my attitude. Since I stared the Paleo Diet in late January 2010, my brainfog and other symptoms have almost completely dissipated and my strength is better than ever. I only have a slight balance & coordination problem and still occasionally have numbness all over; but I am totally confident I am on the right path. The power of nutrition, health, and exercise in MS and autoimmune diseases are so underrated and overlooked.
Again, I cannot stress on how GREAT I feel and how Crossfit El Paso and the recommended Paleo diet have tremendously changed my life for the better!


wrote …

Very happy to see this article! For those of you interested in more info, Mary Conover wrote an excellent article on exercise and MS for CrossFit Santa Cruz a while back -
pdf link:

On a personal note, my mom has MS and started crossfit about 5 months ago. She's gone from not having the body awareness/control to do a good morning with a dowel to being able to deadlift 83 lbs off the floor. Her hard work in the gym has translated into many positive changes in her day-to-day life. But, physical gains aside, the most inspiring part of all this (to me) is that she no longer thinks of herself as a disabled person. After doing Diane, she told me, "well, after THAT, I just don't feel right using my handicap parking placard!" I imagine most crossfitters wouldn't argue with that!

Like Pam, my mom also has yearly check-ups and at the last one, her doctor said that if he hadn't seen her old MRI results, he wouldn't believe that she had MS right now.

She's got many crossfit goals, but the main one we're working towards now is this: no limping down the aisle when she gets married in July. Go Mom GO!

Thanks again to Chris and the CFJ for helping to spread the good news.


Michael Chase wrote …

Chris, Ernesto and Olivia, thank you for sharing this .... I'm sending this to my family and friends, (some are nurses), to encourage others.

"Nothing lifts me out of a bad mood better than a hard workout .... exercise is nothing short of a miracle." Cher Bono

Motivation is what gets you started. Motivation and belief is what keeps you going ... that, and the ability to laugh at yourself! : -) Chase


wrote …

I also meant to extend a sincere THANK YOU to Pam for having the courage to share her story with others. Thanks, Pam.


wrote …

Thank you Chris, powerful medicine, delivered with tender loving care. Paul


wrote …

Awesome, inspiring stuff. Very cool.


wrote …

I also have MS. Though, thankfully, mine has been very mild. Balance issues, intense muscle spasms in my legs, and extreme fatigue are my companions far more than I would like. Reading this is inspiring to me because I started Crossfit in January. It's good to see what I can look forward to as I continue on this exciting journey. Thank you.

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