On Thin Ice: Winter Olympics & MS

I met Adam Riedy at an MS dinner/talk sponsored by one of the big pharmaceutical companies;  I attend as many of these talks as possible, hoping to learn more, ask questions, and meet others with Multiple Sclerosis.  Normally, I dread when they introduce their patient advocate who also lives with MS and happens to take the dinner sponsor’s drug because their talks come across as preaching and superficial, but for some reason the confidence in his step as he moved to the center of the room gave me a clue this one might be different. Honestly, I had not heard of Adam before, or at least I didn’t remember his name.

His story begins when he was just a teenager and fell in love with the sport of speed skating –not the roller rink kind, but the balance on a thin blade of sharpened steel while zipping around a track made of rock hard ice. Adam loved his sport and exceled enough that in high school he left home and went to live with other athletes training for the same goal – Olympic gold and sports superstar status.  Granted, there aren’t many of us who can name a speed skating star other than Apolo Ohno, but it just happens that Adam was in the same age group and training and relay team with Ono.  Adam,  Apolo and one other junior skater were invited to train at Lake Placid, and the rest becomes speed skating history as he moved on to train in Colorado Springs and competed internationally.

Adam was ranked high in the world standings – not just in the United States – and was poised to compete at his first Olympics when his body failed him.  In a pattern all too familiar to those of use living with MS, his foot went numb and then it slowly moved up his leg - this just a few months after having won a medal in the World Championships.  Talk about bringing a promising athletic career to a dead stop. He says he tried to ignore the numbness, but it got to the point that he had to tell his trainer.  I have trouble at times just walking across the room with a numb foot and leg –how on earth could he move on the ice at break neck speeds without feeling his foot?

Adam’s diagnosis came fast – funny how medical care can be prioritized when you are a top athlete in Olympic training.  A neurological exam, MRI, lumbar puncture and voila! – a quick  diagnosis of MS for a young man still in his teens. He hoped that the three days of IV Solumedrol in the hospital would quiet the relapse and get him back on track – figuratively and literally – but it wasn’t to be.  Adam could not qualify for the Olympic team and was on the sidelines watching Ohno and the rest of his training mates go on to win medals in Salt Lake City.

Listening to his story, I was impressed with his quiet acceptance (not to be confused with resignation), and how his life unfolded after the MS diagnosis turned his world upside down.  He returned to school and finished college, something his parents had always wanted him to do.  He met his wife, had his children and even added dogs to complete the picture of domestic bliss.  Adam stood in front of us and said if it weren’t for the MS, these wonderful parts of his life may have not taken place; he would have been too busy in the fast lane, living the life of an Olympic athlete.   In so many ways, he is thankful that Multiple Sclerosis has changed his life.

In a quiet moment after his talk, I was able to speak with Adam about his story, and he confessed that for many years he didn’t want to talk publicly about having MS, and a part of that was because of his own guilt in doing so well living with this disease when he could see so many others impacted in so many ways.  Learning that our MS is different for each of us was a lesson that eventually became clear to him and he is now willing to share his story, including with me for this piece .

Adam is no longer on the daily injections that he took for so many years and is on a different disease modifying drug, doing well,  relapse free going on two years.  Adam has his own business, The Elite Edge, in the Cleveland suburbs, and is a coach and trainer for other people who want to develop their skating skills.   You can see his website for the business at http://gofastonice.com, which is still under construction.  You can get a better look at his story if you  Google his name – Adam Riedy.

I live about 4 hours from Cleveland, and mentioned to him that he had a long ride to get home and I made a casual reference about his driver. Normally the pharmaceutical companies will use a driver, either the rep or a hired service, to bring these speakers who come from a long distance.  He said he was driving himself and had discovered classic books on tape to keep him company on the road – he had a copy of Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, to keep him entertained that night on the drive. He recently finished heard George Orwell's 1984.  Adam said he doesn’t like using the services of  drivers and would much rather be in charge – somehow that doesn’t surprise me.

Many times I hear people say having MS made them a better person.  For Adam Riedy, Multiple Sclerosis took away the life he loved and gave him a new one, making him a different person and he says also a better one. I go to these talks hoping to learn something or meet someone new and interesting. At this talk I did both - I heard the story of Adam Riedy and met a modest man living with the unknowns of MS like the rest of us.

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