When Kayla Montgomery was diagnosed with MS at the age of 15, her life took an unexpected turn. Her condition was identified during a soccer game, when Montgomery landed on her tailbone, resulting in lasting pain in her neck and spine. As the pain got worse, doctors realised that a normal injury of this type wasn’t causing the pain she was going through. Before long, Montgomery was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.
“It took so long to get back results and we were ruling things out and leaving MS as the last option. For a while they thought maybe it was cancer,” said Montgomery.
A disease that causes the body’s immune system to attack tissue and cells within the central nervous system, MS causes damage to nerve connections, which inevitably result in neurological symptoms that short circuit the passing of information, between the brain and body.
As an athlete, the hardest thing about the diagnosis was losing the ability to use, and feel, her legs the way she used to. That, and the fact that at 15, she was amongst the youngest age bracket to be diagnosed with the disease.
“It was really scary. I was so young. Most people with MS aren’t diagnosed until their mid to late 20s, 30s. There wasn’t anybody my age to relate to and understand what I was going through”
The years that followed were spent filled with loneliness and fear. She avoided talking about her diagnosis, “at all costs,” and found her denial stifling.
It wasn’t until doctors started treating her symptoms, relieving her numbness temporarily, that she was provided with the opportunity to use her legs once again.
Montgomery turned to running, an activity that has surprisingly catapulted her into a new lease on life. Her determination to use her legs as long as she had power over them, led her to work harder than ever to achieve her dreams.
Spurred on by a high school coach who encouraged her battle, made her believe in herself and held her accountable for her progress, she found that her diagnosis allowed her to be an even better runner than before.
“I can’t feel anything when I run. It’s an odd sensation to know that my legs are moving, but I can’t feel them. I don’t feel pain when I run. I just run.”
However, her track meets and cross-country races are not faced without difficulty. Every time she competes in a race, she knows the finish will bring the numbing sensation right back to where it started. Her legs will give out and her coaches will apply ice-cold water to her body, calming the nerve fibres burning under her skin.
“You can never really get used to the lack of feeling and the change of sensation, no matter how long you go through it. Every time it is still a bit of a shock and it’s scary,” Montgomery told CNN.
Even after facing this daunting result at the end of every race, she still keeps going, determined to not let MS defeat her. Running the 21st fastest time in the U.S for her school state title in 3,200m last year, Montgomery landed herself an athletics scholarship at Lipscomb University in Nashville.
She has dreams to become a forensic scientist, but for now she competes on the Lipscomb women’s team for as long as she can, training three hours a day, six days a week covering 60-75 miles.
“I keep running because it makes me happy, it makes me feel whole and safe, just because I know as long as I am running and still moving, I am still OK.”
Kayla Montgomery hopes that her story will reach millions around the world, inspiring sufferers to realise their goals and the public to take few minutes to learn more about the disease.
About 2.3 million people across the globe suffer from this irreversible disease, and Montgomery is seeking to inspire everyone to do their bit to help find a cure.