The Hope of a Folding Chair

by Sónia Trejo

On a recent beautiful and sunny Southern California day, the Pasadena Rose Bowl was buzzing with thousands of people. Some were in wheelchairs, some used walkers or canes while others were athletes or your average pedestrian. Everyone, however, shared a heartfelt desire and commitment to raise awareness and funds for those they love who struggle with Multiple Sclerosis. It felt like much more than just an event to raise awareness and funds. This was a day to celebrate Hope and Love and the thousands of people in attendance amplified that feeling.

I was blessed to be there with my clients and dear friends, Karen and Janet.

Karen has been struggling with MS for fifteen years and it has been a gift to work with her for eight of those years. When I first spoke to Janet, her mission was to help her partner Karen find a way to regain mobility, strength, balance and confidence so that she could once again enjoy the simple things we tend to take for granted, like simply being able to walk outside her home unassisted to get the newspaper at the end of her driveway without fear of falling and not being able to get up. Or, going to the theater or concerts. Our work together has helped Karen reclaim her life and once again enjoy the simple things she once thought were impossible to achieve.

That’s why Karen was so excited to walk the ½ loop (1.5 miles) for the 3rd year with her UCLA MS group. Each of the three years Karen had participated in this event, she had gotten progressively stronger and she was ready to finish strong again this year, too. But, by the time the walk began, Karen had been on her feet for a good two hours and the day was already beginning to get warm. Like most people with MS, Karen is very sensitive to heat, which often causes fatigue and affects her mobility.

As I suspected, approximately ¾ miles into the walk, Karen began to overheat. She began to lose mobility in her right leg, causing her whole body to tilt or “list” to the right, which created a loss of balance. Accessing the surroundings, I saw trees that provided shade along the route. We walked over to a bench under a tree so that she could rest and hydrate. One of the helpers came by pushing an empty wheel chair and offered Karen a ride back to the finish line, but Karen graciously declined.

Janet and I knew that Karen might have trouble finishing the walk, but we also knew that she had to do it. Fear of falling was something that she’d worked very hard to overcome. Not walking was simply not an option for her. I understood. I’ve been there. The motivation is not based in shame, but comes from the fact that fear can keeps us from taking risks that might enrich our life orholds us back from doing some things we need to do.To walk across the finish line that day of the WALK MS event was to face and win the daily battle against fear and celebrate another milestone achievement.

Fear will tell you that there is no choice but to quit. It will also try to convince you to let your illness get the better of you. But, when you decide that the statistics associated with your diagnosis will not define your life, you change your relationship to fear. Instead of from False Evidence Appearing Real, you Face, Embrace And Rise to overcome it. Karen was committed to doing whatever it took to finish the walk and it was my heartfelt mission to help Karen achieve her goals safely.

When you have a chronic illness like MS, it’s important to look at every situation and determine your strategy. With the support of your friends and family, you must learn to understand and assess how your body is going to respond to the environment, how much time you need to rest, what you need to get from point A to point B. Then, you Face, Embrace And Rise and you just do it!  I don’t give external limitations power over my destiny and I teach my clients to use their fear to fly.

Our solution that day at the Rose Bowl came in the form of a folding chair that I noticed at a nearby water stop. I would carry the folding chair to the next tree. I knew Karen could walk that far and then she could sit, rest, hydrate and then walk to the next tree with shade.

With Janet and me at her side, this is exactly what we did to help Karen walk across the finish line and receive her medal. We simply took it one tree at a time.

“The difference in Living and feeling Alive, is using your fear as fuel to fly” ~ India Arie

This post originally appreared on Sónia’s blog.