May 19, 2010
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?