Every time Kayla Montgomery crosses the finish line, she collapses into her coach’s arms. Her legs are completely numb, so much so, that she pleads with her team to “find” her legs as they place ice packs on her to cool her down.
At 18, Kayla is one of the top distance runners in the U.S, but she also suffers from a debilitating disease called “MS” or Multiple Sclerosis. This rare disease affects the nervous system and can cause numbness throughout the body. When body heat rises (like during a race), MS symptoms increase.
This means that Kayla runs most of the race with her legs completely numb. She says she feels like she’s floating, making it very difficult to gage her speed. At the finish line she can’t stop on her own, so her coach literally has to catch her before she falls.
It’s easy to assume that Kayla was always a star runner, who persevered despite the diagnosis. But actually, the opposite is true. Before her diagnosis, Kayla says she was even considered slow. But when doctors told her that MS could eventually prevent her from walking, Kayla decided to use her legs as much as possible while she still had the chance.
She joined the cross-country team at her school. Her coach says at first, she was “average at best.” But with time and perseverance, Kayla astonished everyone by becoming one of the best runners in the U.S.
“Instead of letting it stop me from running, I’ve used it to motivate me to break records,” said Kayla.
She qualified for the state championship race. The crowd gasped as Kayla fell to the ground during the first lap of the 3,200 meter race. But instead of letting disappointment overcome her, she let it fuel her again. She got back on her feet and, shockingly, she caught up with the pack. With a final burst of energy, she took the lead and won.
While some competitors say she has an unfair advantage because she can’t feel pain in her legs while running, most people agree that the fact that she’s competing at all is extraordinary. Her neurologist says MS hasn’t benefited her physically in any way. Instead, she attributes the teen’s remarkable accomplishments to a “mental edge.”
Kayla allowed a traumatic diagnosis to inspire her to live a more meaningful life. Have you ever turned what seemed like a crisis into an opportunity?
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