The spring before I was diagnosed, my husband bought me a bicycle for Mother’s Day. I had been experiencing numbness in my feet and legs for several months and all my previous forms of exercise gave me an uncomfortable electrical sensation. I would get a strange feeling from the tips of my toes up through my groin whenever I tried to do anything that involved foot to ground impact. Riding a bicycle did not cause any such symptoms. Zumba and Step Aerobics appeared to be activities I could no longer participate in. Rather than dwell on that which I can no longer do, I now focus on the fact that I have rediscovered the joy of riding a bike. I have been riding since.
If you haven’t ridden a bicycle in a while, I highly recommend it regardless of whether or not you have an MS diagnoses. Physically, it’s a great no impact aerobic work out that has a wide range in terms of how physical you want to make it. Mentally, besides the usual production of endorphins that exercise brings about, it is an activity that simply makes you happy. There is something charmingly childish about riding a bike. Most of us learned this never forgotten skill when we were about 6 years old. And when I hopped on that saddle after years of not having ridden, I was instantly hooked. We mainly ride on bike paths and the ones near where we live run along either the river or the ocean; both are amazing. Even on the warmest of summer days, the breeze is created by sheer momentum. This winter we have had milder than average temperatures and were able to sneak in a ride or two in December and January. Hills can be tough; hills are a challenge for any rider. We have learned the best points of bike path entry which affords a down hill start, thereby energizing and invigorating you from the get-go and then gives you a strong aerobic finish at the end of your round trip.
There are two stories which inspire me and make me believe that cycling is available to people with a wide range of abilities. The first is Terry Wahls’ TEDxIowaCity Minding Your Mitochondria lecture. Interestingly, when I discovered Terry Wahls’ viral video, I couldn’t help but notice that Dr. Wahls described how she went from a wheel chair to biking to work after changing her diet. I doubt that Dr. Wahls ever considered becoming a runner as her mobility returned, but she found that she could ride a bike as she rehabilitated. This life changing video inspired many lifestyle changes I have made as well as reconfirming my cycling theory.
My friend Hope, the woman I met on that fated flight from Arizona, is plagued with moderately advanced symptoms of MS. When I met her, one of her hands was unusable, she had a leg brace and used a cane. I followed her off the plane as she painstakingly made her way towards baggage. In one of our email exchanges, I told her about my bike riding and a few weeks later she emailed me and told me she had purchased an adult sized tricycle. She was thrilled. She spoke enthusiastically about the fact that she felt like a 5 year old girl, riding her trike through the park near her winter home in Florida. I have a feeling she hadn’t felt so alive in years. Hearing this brought me such joy, nearly as much as riding.