On the run with cure at the finish line
Wingrave says MS hopes really long run will prove disease can't stop him
Saturday, May 02, 2015 06:00 am
Ain’t nothing going to break his stride or slow him down. In fact, Sean Wingrave is taking his multiple sclerosis diagnosis to the streets and the pathways as he trains his way to a long run – nearly twice the distance of a marathon – to cure the neurological disease at the end of the month.
The 38-year-old man is set to run 82 km on May 23 on a trek of endurance and perseverance that he calls the Really Long Run to End MS. After living with the disease for almost 10 years, he said that he had to do something to prove that he was still the same old Sean.
“I never wanted MS to define me or who I am. The way I look at it is it doesn’t bother me and I don’t bother it,” he said.
It was November of 2006 when he the first attack came, and it came with a vengeance. He was at work and the entire right side of his body went numb. His parents took him straight to the hospital where the medical team initially assessed him for a stroke.
Then they asked if he had any family history of MS. The answer was yes. More testing for the disease was conducted by a neurologist at the U of A Hospital. The diagnosis came six months later and none too soon. That was a pretty tough period, he admitted.
“After that day at work, it actually got worse and worse and worse. One morning I woke up and it honestly felt like somebody was splitting my head with an axe. I was in so much pain that all I could do to manage was call my dad and said, ‘Dad. Help.’”
There were lesions on his brain that affected his eyesight too. One eye wouldn’t track with the other, leaving him forced to wear an eye patch. It doesn’t matter how much you sleep. “You just always feel tired; you never feel rested.”
He had no balance and returned to live with his parents who helped care for him.
When his mom would get home, she would bundle him up and hold him by the arm as they walked around the block.
“She would literally have to hold onto me because I would drift. I had no sense of left or right or anything like that.”
Luckily, the symptoms subsided enough where he could return to work and even move back into his own home in Braeside, close to the Red Willow Trails. That’s when he started walking to maintain his fitness and keep checks on his physical abilities.
Those walks slowly turned into runs. By 2009, he had run his first half marathon, not a small feat for a man weighing more than 250 pounds on a five-foot, 11-inch frame. Running has become a solid part of his fight against the disease, so much so that he now trains several days a week.
“It was a real big deal running 5 km for the first time. Now, 5 km is a warm-up. I’m still not in shape like a runner. There’s no question about that,” he admitted, with a laugh, suggesting that he’s built more like a rugby player than a long distance runner.
Having numb feet actually helps his endurance, since he can’t tell when his feet are tired. The only drawback, of course, is that he never knows what he’ll find when he takes his shoes off after a particularly long stretch.
He’s also been participating in the MS Society’s annual Bike Tour, a two-day roll around Camrose and Leduc. He planned this run to follow the map of day one of that event, and he’ll even have some friends and family join him for parts of the run. Mostly though, it’s him against the elements, just like it is with MS.
Until then, you might see Wingrave on the trails or on the track at Servus Place, practising his stride and keeping up his stamina. Part of his weekly regimen includes a run of more than 40 km. He’s set to do a full 60-km stretch today, a jaunt that he figures will prove that the distance of his really long run isn’t out of his reach.
“It’s funny to say but really, once you can run 60, I’m not worried about 80.”
In the meantime, he’s trying to raise $12,000 for the fight against MS. People can pledge their help. People can learn more (including how to donate) through his website at www.reallylongruntoendms.ca.
The support so far, he said, has been overwhelming.