A Debilitating Disease, An Extreme Determination And A Coach Who Doesn't Let Her Fall

This is a story of Kayla Montgomery, a teenage runner, who doesn't let anything — not even multiple sclerosis — derail her dreams.

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This is Kayla Montgomery. She collapses every time she races.

Kayla Montgomery (4)

Image via Jeremy M. Lange/The New York Times

Some three years ago, Kayla was found to have multiple sclerosis

A 14-year-old Kayla seen here playing football before she was found to have MS

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According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, multiple sclerosis (MS) "is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body."

The NMSS lists common MS symptoms such as fatigue, gait difficulties, numbness/tingling of limbs, and muscle spasms.

While there is no known cure to multiple sclerosis, there are now medications and therapies available to those suffering with the disease in order to manage symptoms and improve quality of life.

Yet, defying most logic, 18-year-old Kayla, a disciplined runner, has gone on to become one of the fastest young distance runners in the US — one who literally collapses into the arms of her coach because she cannot stay on her feet after crossing the finish line

At the end of each race, Kayla Montgomery collapses into the arms of her coach, Patrick Cromwell.

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Because M.S. blocks nerve signals from Montgomery’s legs to her brain, particularly as her body temperature increases, she can move at steady speeds that cause other runners pain she cannot sense, creating the peculiar circumstance in which the symptoms of a disease might confer an athletic advantage.

But intense exercise can also trigger weakness and instability; as Montgomery goes numb in races, she can continue moving forward as if on autopilot, but any disruption, like stopping, makes her lose control.

After Kayla was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, her coach didn't know if she would ever be able to play again. But Kayla, aged 14 at that time, who was determined to run, said to her coach: "I want to run. I want to run fast. And I don't want you to hold back."

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After her diagnosis, Kayla feared the day she would no longer be able to run.

"For a few years, I was terrified that I might not be able to run tomorrow or the next day. I kind of decided that that wasn't really helping me and I wasn't happy living like that."

"So I stopped focusing on the what-ifs, and [started] focusing on what I'm able to do now. Making sure that I make the most of that and take the gift of mobility and use it to the greatest advantage I can."

"When the race first starts, I feel everything. I can feel my legs moving and I can feel the start of pain and after reaching the first mile marker, I've started to lose most feeling in my legs," Kayla says. "The momentum is kind of what keeps my legs moving and once I stop, they just kind of fall off from underneath me."

Coach Cromwell waits at the finish line at every race to catch Kayla.

"With one lap to go, I run across the track and just get ready to catch her," Cromwell says. "We catch her just to protect her. We don't want her to brace for a fall and break an arm or collarbone or something."

Kayla, an inspiration for many, proves that no matter what dreams are still achievable. Watch this short video detailing Kayla's resilience and how she turned herself into a star runner:

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