As I begin to tell my MS story, I want to start by acknowledging my fellow MS Warriors for your strength and determination in the fight against MS. I know MS affects everyone extremely different and some have a much tougher battle than others do as they live their daily lives. One of the most important lessons I have learned in my personal battle with MS, is to always listen to others living with MS and to do my absolute best to reach out and lift them back up when they are down. The truth is we are all in this fight together and the more we support each other, the stronger we are together as MS Warriors.
I grew up in New Jersey and fortunately was able to transfer my job as a courier with FedEx to sunny California to escape the cold winters in January of 2000. At the time, I was an avid surfer and moving to San Diego was truly a dream come true. Surfing every day got me in excellent shape and life was good. Soon I got into long distance running to challenge myself and completed a marathon in 2002.
Then one Monday morning, I woke up and my entire right leg felt numb and was tingling. By the end of the week, my entire body from my neck down felt numb with tingling. Something was very wrong and I met with a neurologist and told him how I felt. He said you may have MS. After an MRI and spinal tap, I was diagnosed with MS in May 2003 at 33 years old. When I got in my truck, I remember the first song on radio was “ Bad Luck” by Social Distortion. I was clearly upset and shocked by this news. I got it all out and cried by myself for a few minutes.
After calming down, I realized far worse things happen to people and I have not lost my life. I have just started a new chapter. I decided I would not let this disease defeat me. I chose to fight MS and I started by a phone call to the local NMSS Pacific South Coast Chapter to lead me in the right direction. I got contacts and phone numbers of people currently living with MS and spoke with them about how they deal with this disease on a day-to-day basis. Those individuals truly helped and guided me on my new path in the fight against MS. Little did I know, that phone call to MS Society would change my life for the better!
I decided to get involved with the local MS Chapter and volunteered at an MS Walk in San Diego. During the walk, I met some great and caring people who were supporting friends and family members living with MS. It was nice to see the support in the MS community and I learned that I was not in this fight alone. I then started my own team, Team Salmon, and we walked together in an MS Walk at Legoland in Carlsbad, CA.
Through a friend at the MS Society, we heard about Bike MS in San Diego and decided to get involved by starting a team. Leah and I started Team Big Fish in 2006 and we were off on a new journey to roll down MS on the roads in Southern California. Leah had never ridden a proper rode bike, and said, “I am scared to get on a bike with those darn skinny wheels, but I will do it for you!” We raised over 2K this year and had the time of our lives with a great community!
Life was good! In September, 2007, I married Leah, the love of my life. Fortunately, I was also free from any MS symptoms. At the time I was doing so well, so I decided to challenge myself and start a new career. I had no idea this challenge would forever change my condition living with MS and send me from heaven to hell.
In January 2008, I was accepted to the Mott Training Center in Monterrey, CA, to become a California State Park Ranger. At the time, I was the only cadet accepted into this training Academy living with MS and I knew the training would be hard on me. Both physically and mentally. The stress level became too high for me and during a firearms training, my vision became blurry and I lost vision for a brief time. At the same time, I lost some control of my hands and became extremely scared and had to safely holster my weapon.
This horrible incident was not acceptable to me and decided it was best to leave the Academy on my own terms. This was my dream job that I had worked on for years and now because of the terrible exacerbation from MS I had lost my dream job. This changed my life. I felt like a bomb went off in my body that left me broken, but I knew I had to fight back again. I was knocked down for about a year and suffered from my own unique PTSD. I was confused, scared and did not know what to do. The pain was boiling up inside. My wife, family and friends knew I was hurt and tried to help me recover, but I did not let them.
When I got home from the Academy, I tried to heal and recover. I went on a run and soon I discovered my running days had ended. Now my right leg felt weaker and heavier like moving in quicksand. I tried to go surfing and could not get up on my favorite surfboard. This was devastating. I have learned living with MS is a constant roller coaster ride, filled with highs and lows! Every day I struggled with some demons in my mind. I called myself a loser, a quitter, and lost all hope. Looking back, this was not a failure but a tough life lesson that would strengthen me and teach me to never ever give up! I needed to accept myself for who I was. I have learned not only is it OK to get knocked down but it’s also OK to reach out to those I love for help and support. And that is exactly what I did next on my MS journey!
I reached out to my local MS chapter for help and guidance. A good friend at the local MS Society connected me with Howard’s Bike Team. I met Howard’s Team at an MS gathering and soon I committed to a lifelong contract with Howard’s Team until we find a cure for MS! With the support of my incredible wife Leah by my side and Howard’s Team, I was able to ride the entire 150 miles in the Bike MS in 2010. Howard’s Team awarded me the most inspirational rider and helped fuel my fight against MS. I am still rolling down MS with Howard’s Team and as of December 2022, we have raised over 2.8 million dollars.
Everyone on Howard’s Team continues to support me, lift me up, and keep me strong. Bike MS is an incredible event that brings out the best people in the world, those that care to raise funds and help find a cure. Through my battles with MS, I have found that there is truly strength in numbers. Staying involved and participating in the Bike MS has truly been a lifesaver for me and given me a purpose in my fight against MS.
With the support of the MS community, family, and friends; I have recovered and feel better. However, I still felt the need to battle some hidden demons. I got into prone paddle boarding in 2018, a sport paddling a 12ft board on water with hands only. I really enjoy this sport and being out on the ocean, bays, and lagoons. Spending time on the ocean has always proved to be very healing for me and my MS symptoms. After a few seasons paddling, I decided to challenge myself and I completed an open ocean 22-mile Catalina Channel crossing.
My wife, Leah, family and friends from the paddling and MS community were at the finish line waiting for me. It was the best feeling in the world to finish on the beach. To the best of my knowledge, I am the only person with MS to complete this channel crossing. It was incredibly special and the biggest challenge I have completed in my life. I chose to “Paddle to Defeat MS” and raised over 10 thousand dollars for those others that truly suffer from MS.
Yes, living with MS can be hard. There are bad days and failures. I do have challenges with cognitive issues which can be very frustrating and at times I use an AFO brace to assist with my walking. But, I still feel very fortunate in my fight with MS. I have chosen to focus on what “I Can Do,” and not what I can not. I always focus on how great it is to meet so many good folks in the MS community. The MS community inspires me, keeps me positive and gives me a purpose in life.
I am so very thankful for the MS community, together we will keep fighting and one day find a cure for MS!
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