The word "epic" is not necessarily one you'd use when describing the impact of multiple sclerosis on a person's life. The word's definition includes references to surpassing the ordinary and unusual achievement. EPIC forms a convenient acronym to explain how and why MS has been a blessing in uplifting me to higher levels of:
Empathy - I started losing physical abilities about 16 years ago, and prior to that, I would honestly say that compassion was not one of my finest personal attributes. However, I do believe that the progression of MS has enabled me to better understand what it feels like to lose capability and the frustration of NOT being able to do things often taken for granted. I never used to cherish the most basic physical functions, such as walking, running, and seeing. But it is this empathy that has helped me become associated with an organization that provides disabled children the opportunity to participate in triathlons and marathons. It's not that I totally understand how frustrating their situation must be, but I do have a heightened degree of empathy for those who must confront physical barriers and limitations on a daily basis.
Pride - I am proud that MS has NOT altered my life's goals and aspirations. In a way that many of you may find strange, I am actually proud to tell people that I have MS. When I first was diagnosed 16 years ago that was certainly not the case. However, I do take great pride in talking about MS and explaining the approach I've taken over these many years to combat the disease head-on. Although I recognize how lucky I am, I am very proud that I've been able to continue my career, maintain (or reclaim) the ability to exercise and participate in athletic competitions, such as 5K's and triathlons.
Inspiration -MS has been a divine influence in my life that has positively uplifted my mind and soul. Is it crazy to conclude that MS has made me a better person? I wake most mornings with a sense of inspiration to overcome fatigue and to be the best husband, father, son, employee, and friend I can be. I may not always succeed in this quest, but I do consistently try. In a sense, I view each day as the ultimate competition, meaning that today (like every other day), it is not sufficient to just get by with an average effort, but instead, I must challenge to over-achieve and to win each day's "race".
Commitment - The word means to be bound emotionally or intellectually to a course of action, another person or organization. MS has provided a terrific opportunity for me to commit to two very special causes:
I was blessed ten years ago to begin receiving my medical treatment from Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. The care I've received there has been outstanding. The Project RESTORE organization was formed six years ago out of Hopkins to accelerate the development of new diagnostics and treatments to improve mobility of patients with neuroimmunologic disease and physical disabilities. I am honored to be involved with Project RESTORE. Last spring we organized a triathlon team to raise awareness and funds. We had over 60 people participate, with many having MS, and expect to field a team again this year in May, 2010. If not for MS, I would never have had the privilege of getting involved with Hopkins and the amazingly committed researchers, scientists and doctors there.
In the fall of 2009 my family pushed a young man with cerebral palsy through the final leg of a marathon. It was pure joy to see others cheer for him throughout the race. ASA is a fantastic organization that provides equipment, training and funds to help disabled children train and participate in triathlons, marathons and road races. Having a sense of empathy and compassion for those who have impaired physical abilities makes ASA a very special cause for my family. We hope to participate in many more ASA-sponsored races in the future.
MS has been a blessing. It has helped define me in a positive way as it has led me on an EPIC journey enhancing my empathy, pride, inspiration and commitment. I am a very lucky man and feel a sense of over-whelming appreciation that I can share my thoughts and abundant optimism with others through this post.