Keeping Your Cool as an Athlete with MS
It's nearly summer, and here in Michigan we’ve seen 70-degree weather on a Monday and snow the following Friday. It seems like the weather has been trying to flip but it just can’t seem to get to summer. I have to admit, I’m not sad about it. Every year I get excited for summer but somehow forget how hard the season is on my body and my brain. I play roller derby for the Ann Arbor Derby Dimes and our home track is outdoors, which means we are at Mother Nature's mercy. I know that simply being an MS patient in the summer is tough, but being an athlete who competes outdoors can be especially difficult.
Last year during one of our home bouts (what we call our games) the temperature was around 100 degrees and the heat index was unbearable. We considered cancelling the bout because we were concerned about our athletes, as well as our spectators. I was VERY nervous about the heat. For me, direct sunlight is always a problem, but with high temperatures I was starting to worry that my brain was going to shut down. When I start to overheat, it’s like my brain just throws its hands in the air and quits. Having a brain on strike and rolling around on roller skates just seemed like a bad idea, so I (along with my team) started thinking of ways to keep cool.
There are SO many different types of cooling vests available on the market. Generally, there are two types; ones that you soak in water and others that carry freezer packs. I found that for roller derby, a cooling vest didn’t work well for me because it is a full contact sport. I had a vest that you soak in water and I kept getting other people wet! I am thinking about getting one with the freezer packs for when we practice. The packs last for a few hours, plus you can buy extra packs and bring a cooler with them if you want to swap them out. Cooling vests can get pretty expensive depending on the type and brand you get, but the MS Foundation has a program that provides cooling materials to MS patients. It is important to research the type of vest you want and how it will work with the sport you play. For non-contact sports, I think almost any type of vest would work well.
A cooling scarf is one of the best investments I’ve ever made as an athlete with MS. For most types, you soak them in cold water and they expand, then you tie them around your neck. They’re great because they don’t get you all wet and stay pretty cold for quite some time. If you find that it’s not cold enough, you can just dunk it back in the water. Also, it doesn’t get in the way of any of my gear or protective equipment and it doesn’t bother any of my teammates.
Much like the cooling scarf, cooling wrist wraps are a great way to keep various parts of your body cool. For sports that don’t require gloves or wrist guards this is a really good option to help keep your body temperature down and also to have a quick way to cool your body off if you just hold the wrist wrap up to your head or neck.
When summer is in full swing and 80-plus degree days are the norm, I start to bring a cooler to practice filled with ice water. In my cooler I keep spare water bottles, towels that I can use to wrap around my neck during breaks, and it also provides a really cold source of water to re-soak my neck scarf. This is also a good time to bring up the importance of cold drinking water. I generally like my water to be at room temperature but when I’m playing derby in the heat, it’s better to have cold drinking water so it can help to cool your body from the inside out.
If you play a sport where you sit on a bench in between plays, it is helpful to bring an umbrella or canopy to sit under to avoid direct sunlight. I find that when I’m covered my stamina is better.
Being an athlete with MS can have some pretty difficult complications but staying cool in high heat shouldn’t be one of them. Most of all, it’s important to remember to take breaks. There is no shame in sitting out of a drill, taking your helmet off, or even gearing down if you need to. It is safer for you and your teammates if you only play when you’re at your best.
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Jackie is an ulcerative colitis patient and the founder and Executive Director ofGirls With Guts. Since diagnosis, she has been blogging her IBD journey atBlood, Poop, and Tears. Jackie has worked hard to become a strong voice in the patient advocacy community, and pays it forward as Social Ambassador of theIBDHealthCentral Facebook page.