World of Sport

The incredible story of the budding athletics star battling multiple sclerosis

World of Sport

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Kayla Montgomery (Facebook)

Many athletes believe that their road to the top was hard, gruelling and immensely challenging. No doubt it was. But when one hears of the challenges Kayla Montgomery has overcome it puts things in perspective.

The 18-year-old is one of the most talented young distance runners in the world, but her journey has been far from ordinary or serene.

She trains 50 miles a week, competes in every event going and maintains an incredibly high level of performance through it all. Oh, and she has multiple sclerosis.

Currently studying at North Carolina high school, she has just won a coveted state title, but she never knows what the future will hold for her athletic career given her battle against the disease.

Montgomery is one of an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 children and adolescents in her country who have been diagnosed with MS - but she can count herself in a tiny pool of individuals who perform at the highest level possible for her age in athletics.

It is shocking to hear of what she puts herself through to fulfil her dreams, given all that she is up against. Her coach, Patrick Cromwell, says she ends each race staggering uncontrollably, before collapsing into his waiting arms.

Can anyone even imagine what it must be like to live by such fine margins in pushing their body to its limits in pursuit of athletic excellence?

"When she was diagnosed [at 15], she said to me, ‘Coach, I don’t know how much time I have left, so I want to run fast — don’t hold back," Cromwell told the New York Times.

"That's when I said, 'Wow, who are you?'

He added: "I don’t know anyone in their right mind who would say, 'Give me MS so I have a little bit of numbness after mile 2', but I think that’s when she gets her strength."

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The disease is unpredictable, has unknown causes, and can be disabling, according to the National MS Society, which is promoting MS Awareness Week until March 9.

Although amazingly Montgomery has managed to turn such struggles into her athletic inspiration, there are risks to her every run.

"When a person with MS challenges themselves, it’s hard to predict what the effects will be," Dr. Nicholas LaRocca, vice president of health care delivery policy research at the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, said.

"It affects people differently, and everybody has a slightly different mix of symptoms."

As for Montgomery herself, she puts up with her body's often unusual reactions rather than calling attention to her MS, and is happy to lose control from time to time if it means that she can continue to train as normally as possible.

"I guess I found the determination to keep pushing because I refused to allow MS to keep me from doing the things I loved," she told Yahoo in a Facebook message.

"I didn't want to be defined by having MS, so I continue to push and give it my all every day that I can… I know that with MS my mobility isn't necessarily guaranteed, so I've decided to take every day that I can run and make the most out of it."

In the national indoor 5,000m championship in 2013, officials reportedly forgot to catch her and she fell on her face, lying prostrate on the track until someone carried her away.

Announcers speculated that she had a seizure while some assumed she had fainted. Others, she said, simply called her a wimp. As shocking as it seems, because Montgomery plays down her condition, few understand what she is going through.

She is a true inspiration. And should she confound her struggles and reach the very top of her sport, athletics fans across the world will be cheering her every step of the way.

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