Multiple Sclerosis – My Sport Isn’t All I’m Crushing
From broken hips to stage four cancer, we sure have explored a lot in the past three weeks. Whether it is a long terms illness, diagnosis or just something that is causing an athlete to deal with a unique set of challenges in their sport, this series is looking at athletes who are facing adversity and proving that their sport isn’t all they are crushing!
This week, we are catching up with Robyn. I met Robyn a couple years ago at a lunch with other fellow bloggers and since then, I have made a guest appearance on her podcast, Alpha Female Podcast. Robyn is a former fitness competitor, current obstacle racer and marketing maven who is manoeuvering her recent diagnosis of multiple sclerosis with the same force she brings to her sport.
Over to her.
Tell me a little bit about your sport and how you got started.
I like to say that my fitness journey started in 2009 when I was drawn to fitness competitions. In reality I was an athlete much earlier. I was a formally trained ballerina for the majority of my tiny life from a small child to 13 years old. I spent hours in the studio training. Ok but back to fitness comps, at the time I was jumping into the sport for vain reasons (I wanted to look good naked) but it gave me the drive and dedication to stick to something that taught me how to start getting healthy. I hung up my stripper heels and sparkly bikinis and subjective judging for obstacle course racing after getting hooked in 2012. I ran my first Warrior Dash and got the competitive bug for racing. I started training and got into the more competitive race world of Spartan, X Man, etc. I love that I did well based on how hard I trained and could see my strength and endurance developing.
What is your proudest moment in your sport?
In 2015, I ran 20 races and placed top 10 in my age group in basically each race and this was one year after being diagnosed with MS. I had something to prove that I was stronger than the disease. I ended up with adrenal fatigue at the end of the year but I’m still really proud of how well I did.
What did a typical training week look like for you when you were at the peak of competition?
I would train in the gym fitness competitor style 3 times a week and then train 2 – 3 times week at the former Alpha Obstacle Training facility (now One Academy). Saturday mornings were their signature Everest class which simulated race conditions. I would then do one road run and one trail run a week. I was also dealing with an ankle injury that year so I had to rest considerably during the week and cut back on run training.
Talk to me a little bit about your MS. How did you discover it and what role does it play in your life today?
Late November 2014, the entire right side of my body slowly went numb over the course of a week. It started in my hand, went up my arm, down my torso and into my right leg. I drove myself to the hospital when it went into my foot. After hours, many tests I received the diagnosis. The longer story is here.
I call MS my sidekick that reminds me every day to take care of myself. There is no quick fix just consistent diligent actions and healthy habit implementation daily that allows me to be in remission with minimal symptoms and zero disability.
How have you adjusted your training?
The only thing that really sucks is that my symptoms return when I get overheated. Where the myelin sheath has been eaten away at in my spine is what can be symptomatic. So when I overheat the CNS that is exposed there gets confused and has trouble communicating with my right side. I’ll lose grip strength in my hand and get numb. Sometimes I’ll lose vision in my right eye and then I have to cool off or slow down before continuing. After an epic 2015 of racing I also developed adrenal fatigue from pushing myself too hard. So a year later I really struggled with getting my mojo back and it’s still a struggle. I’m getting back into training but not setting lofty goals of getting back to racing but simple smart goals like 3 weight workouts a week and then the following week adding in a run while being consistent with the previous 3 workouts. I’ve learned the value of rest and of listening to my body and am still learning the mental aspects associated with it.
Has your history as an athlete influenced your approach to your MS? If so, how?
I was asked on a podcast about women in obstacle course racing what the correlation with my ballet training as a kid was to my sport now. I brushed it off like oh I wasn’t an athlete until later in life and totally disregard my years of training. So looking back on it I learned dedication to training, finding something I love and adore and am passionate about and doing that. My legs also have great strength and muscle memory. Now my upper body has to catch up for monkey bars and such!
What was the biggest thing you learned on your journey with MS that you didn’t know before?
I’m not very nice to myself. I also wasn’t taking care of myself to the best of my ability. When I get frustrated with my ability I am really great at the negative self talk so I’ve learned immensely the value of positive self talk, patient with my ability while still yearning and working towards goals and new strength. I also learned that what I had perceived as healthy (ie. Fitness clean eating) wasn’t serving my body properly at all. It wasn’t until I learned what nutrition truly supports me with diving into digestion health and hormonal health and seeing what deficiencies I have and then supplementing or eating accordingly.
What is your biggest piece of advice to anyone else who is dealing with this?
Don’t look at my journey or look at another MS Warrior’s journey and try and replicate it. You can only figure out what will work for you. You can seek camaraderie in our shared sidekicks but our diseases and symptoms are all going to be different. That’s why they call this a snowflake disease because it will be different for everyone.
The DMs from MS Warriors telling me that they are jealous that I can run, break my heart and make me feel bad that I have my health but then I remember that we are all on our own journeys. I don’t want mine to hurt someone. I just want to run for me. I hate saying it but if I inspire someone to find their own strength then that’s why I share publicly but my public MS journey has actually been hugely draining on me.
Where can people find you online?
RobynBaldwin.com is the best place with links to all the socials!
Anything else you want to add?
Thank you for inspiring me to always do me but have camaraderie with others in this crazy world.
Big thanks to Robyn for being so open about her journey. We are so much better for it.