To this day the memory of that moment feels vivid and distinct, as if it happened last week and not 10 years ago. The ring of the phone. My step dad’s voice. “Mom has MS.” I remember crying into the phone over and over again. “It’s not fair.” Like most people, I knew almost nothing about Multiple Sclerosis. Visions of wheelchairs, hospital beds, a feebled body, rapid decline and even early death broadcast themselves across every surface of my mind.
And indeed MS is fully capable of exacting such a devastating toll. It can rob you of almost everything, mental and physical. But my mother has been lucky, in relative terms. She’s had access to great doctors, the latest medications, she completely overhauled her diet. And she’s a fighter. No joke. Not a lot has been easy for her in life. Not her childhood. Not working her way through college. Not working full-time in the male-dominated corporate world of the 70s while raising me as a divorced single mother. It seems as though her life experiences created for her a virtually impenetrable suit of armor, a seemingly unstoppable will and a determination that simply does not yield until it’s met its goal.
So, when she was diagnosed with MS, she did what came naturally: she went into fighting mode. Her fighting spirit manifests itself in the language she often uses. “MS in a non-issue.” “It’s not a part of my life.” She recently told her doctor, “I’m not going to have any more relapses.” Her doctor laughed. But she was absolutely serious. Many people, especially her doctors, simply don’t understand such seemingly illogical statements. But I get it. It’s a statement of intention. It’s a statement of will. It’s a battle line drawn in her own terms and beyond which MS shall not pass. While her doctors may not understand her attitude, they can’t explain how she has fared so well. I suppose no one can. MS is a disease that is not yet well-understood and affects people very differently. But I like to think that all of that fight in her is a big part of the reason.
I’m a newcomer to ultrarunning, I’ve only done one 50k and two 50 milers. But there’s one lesson I’ve learned unequivocally: even the idea of quitting, the mere possibility of failure, must never enter your mind. With willful ignorance I see a set of outcomes, all of which include at least the measure of success which is finishing. I always have specific time and place goals, sure. But finishing is a given. I’ve already decided that I will finish my first 100 miler in 2013. And I will.
Just as my mother knows that her statements are not factually true, I’m fully aware that any number of things beyond my control could stop me. I could break a leg. I could get horribly sick. My body could shut down. Much stronger people than I have failed to get to the finish line of a 100 miler. But there is one thing that is within my control: me. My attitude. My will.
And of course my mom knows she has MS. She has not completely escaped its effects. Her energy level is lower than it used to be. Her eye site has deteriorated somewhat. And she had to change careers as she could no longer handle the crazy hours demanded by a corporate, upper-management job. But seeing her fight, seeing her refuse to give in, seeing that battle line drawn has inspired me deeply. I try to be as strong as her. Maybe running ultras is a way of testing my will. I don’t know.
Life is strange. Every once in a while, a door is opened right in front of you. One feels compelled to enter. It’s almost irresistible. Some call it God. Some call it fate. Some call it chance. I don’t know what it is. What I do know is that when it happens, you must enter. You must listen. If you turn your back, the door will close and likely won’t ever open again.
Last year I ran the North Face Endurance Challenge Madison 50 miler. It wasn’t even on my race schedule. I only signed up a few weeks prior in order to get a qualifier for another race. The North Face EC Madison just happened to be on the qualifiers list and fairly near my parents. And yet, this seemingly inconsequential decision turned out to be life-changing in a way I would never have imagined. During the race, I started talking to another runner. It turned out he lived and ran in my hometown of Boulder last summer. After the race we exchanged several emails. I had seen him running together with a woman for much of the race. I had wondered about their relationship, but it turned out he barely knew her. Her name was Ashley, as he explained “the Ashley behind MS Run the US.” He sent me a link to the MS Run the US website. When I opened it, I could not believe my eyes. Ashley had run across the US to raise money for MS. And now her organization was planning a Relay run across the US to raise even more money for MS. And they were looking for runners. The universe slapped me in the face…hard. This was IT. I knew right then that I had to do this. The fit was too perfect and the way it was brought into my life too much to deny. I could use my greatest passion, running, to help my mother and all of those battling MS. I could use the fighting spirit I had learned from her to help fight for her, with her. Up until now running has been for me a largely selfish endeavor: I go off into the mountains for hours at a time and bask in their glory. To get away. I love it. But any benefit to the wider world is tangential at best. It’s time that I use my running to a more selfless end: to help others.
And so I will. So, the journey begins. A journey that will carry me 182 miles, 7 marathons in 7 days. From Barstow, CA to Las Vegas, NV. Across desolate desert. And come what may, I WILL finish.
This will undoubtedly prove to be far and away the hardest thing that I have ever done, both physically and mentally. It will require all of the fight in me…maybe more. But it won’t be as hard as what 2.1 million people living with MS do every day of their lives. My mom is an indomitable fighter. Everyone living with this disease is. But I can walk. I can run. It’s easy for me. All I can do is hope that a fraction of their strength will carry me across the miles. My mother can no longer run. Many with MS can no longer run. Some can no longer walk. So, I will. I will run for them. Along with 21 other runners, we’ll fight and run…all the way across the country.
The MS Run the US Relay has the tremendous goal of raising $500,000 to help end this disease. 100% of funds raised through the Relay and its Running Partners go directly to the National MS Society for research into treatments to help improve the day-to-day life of those living with MS. and an eventual cure. We run to end this horrible disease which has taken far too much from far too many. Please help all of those living with MS by supporting my 182 mile run and the MS Run the US Relay. I have pledged to raise at least $10,000 by the end of the Relay in September. I hope to raise even more.
Only with YOUR help can I do this. It may be terribly cliché, but no amount is too little. Every bit moves us forward. Just as our 3000+ mile Relay journey is merely millions of single footsteps, so we can only achieve our ambitious goals with everyone’s help. Give generously if you feel so moved. But better to give $1 than nothing.
Please donate here: http://www.firstgiving.com/fundraiser/msruntheus/jayrawlings
There are also many ways that you can support the Relay and my efforts which won’t cost you a cent:
- Spread the word! Tell your friends, post this to Facebook. Pass this on to anyone who may be interested. The more people who hear, the more good we can do.
- Follow my blog: https://outrunningmyself.wordpress.com. I’ll be posting regular updates on the Relay
- “Like” me on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/JayRuns4MS
- Follow me on Twitter @JayRuns4MS
- If you would like to give time rather than money or think you know of any other way to help, please get in touch with me or leave a comment on my blog.
Thank you all for your support. I want to say that I can’t wait for the journey to begin, but in fact it already has.