River Grace has a remedy for multiple sclerosis.
It might not work for everybody, but it’s working for her. And she’s positive it would benefit many people diagnosed with MS. Even Minnesota Wild goalie Josh Harding, if he’s willing.
Last week Harding’s story went national, bringing Jordan Sigalet’s story back into the headlines. Sigalet, the former Victoria Salsa (Grizzlies) goaltender from 1999-2001 was diagnosed with MS in 2004 while playing for Bowling Green University. Journalists far and wide leaned on him for expert analysis of what Harding is in for.
On the one hand, Harding could dodge the worst of MS and live a relatively normal life. He could one day win a starting position in the NHL, a promotion from his current role as a backup.
On the other hand, his days as a hockey player could be numbered. They could be, but they don’t have to be. And that’s a big jump from 2004, when Sigalet was told he wouldn’t play hockey again. And yet he played professionally until 2009, a typical career for a goalie.
The same words, in essence, were once told to Grace. She isn’t a hockey player but she’s certainly become an athlete – in a non-traditional sense.
The 62-year-old North Park Road resident has lived with MS since her 20s and only recently formulated a regime that has her up and running.
“I was so depressed I was suicidal. I couldn’t bear the thought of moving. Everything was an ordeal, just going the bathroom was exhausting to think about.”
She needed a change, so she made one.
“In 2005 I wanted to die. In 2006 I cut wheat and dairy from my diet and ate more veggies and it helped. It gave me the energy I needed to start to exercise.”
When she first hit the pool she could barely last 10 minutes.
“I treaded water for two years before I swam. It took a long time for MS to weaken my muscles, and I had to get them back.”
Exercise as a form of treatment carries a modicum of controversy, and has been explored as a form of treatment for MS since the 1970s.
Grace says she was told not to bother. “When I was diagnosed I was told it would just get worse.”
And it did. Because she was taught to accept it, she says.
But now she swears a simple regimen of diet change, vitamin D and exercise has brought her from the depths of depression and immobility – the two most devastating symptoms of MS – to leading an active life with a positive outlook.
Grace swims at least four days a week. Each session is two hours of laps or aquafit. She’s also part of a Sunday morning group of swimmers, all of have MS.
They benefit from the temperature control of water, as one of the common beliefs is that elevated body heat will activate MS symptoms.
The water of Crystal Pool is actually too cold for Grace, and she wears a wetsuit. Anyone who has experienced the wondrous joys putting on a neoprene cover-all can appreciate Grace’s ability to get in and out of hers eight times a week.
Grace’s life changes were so profound, she self-published a book detailing her story.
“My main goal is to let people know they can get better. It breaks my heart that people don’t want to hear they can get better, or know they can get better,” she says.
The book goes into scathing detail about MS drugs, which can run $15,000 to $40,000 per year, and did little for her, she says. If anything, they delayed her symptoms.
Harding now faces the same serious choices of how to treat MS while living up to his obligation as an NHL goaltender with a three year contract. Hopefully he can keep cool under all that hockey gear, and be one of the lucky ones who avoid the worst MS has to offer.
– Travis Paterson is the Black Press regional sports reporter.