Inspiration

Color Runner Hero: Louise Polcari – Her Battle with MS

  • August 16, 2017

There are times in life where hitting rock bottom is just what you need to give you the urgency, courage and motivation needed to overcome tremendous obstacles. Read about Louise Polcari’s battle against MS and how she’s gone from being bed-ridden at 600 pounds to winning The Gazette 1,000 Pound Challenge and completing several 5Ks, including The Color Run.

By Louise Polcari

In the early 1990’s my life was amazing. I was an assistant manager and supervised a staff of 120, was a semi-professional bowler, and was the only female in my judo class. My life was great, but everything changed when I slipped on a wet bathroom floor and landed on both of my knees. Bilateral knee replacement surgeries had to be performed. I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 1991.  The artificial joint in my left knee was recalled and I made the decision to have it replaced. Solumedrol (steroids) were given to me prior, during, and after surgery in an attempt to prevent an exacerbation of the MS. I got an infection during the surgery which resulted in me losing the majority of the quadriceps in my left leg and extensive damage to the extensor mechanism. The revision required the use of a full constrained implant.  Additionally, I had a major exacerbation of the MS. I lost feeling from my waist down. I was told I would never walk again. Due to an inability to exercise, unhealthy food at the nursing home, and severe depression, my weight skyrocketed to over 600 pounds. I remember lying on my bed and looking out the window and watching life pass me by. I knew I was going to die before I hit my fiftieth birthday. I did not want to die in the nursing home. I wanted to be an active participant in life. My inner athlete kicked in… “Do anything to keep my body moving – keep moving”. At first all I could do was sway back and forth in bed. Gradually, I had enough strength to sit up and then transfer to a wheelchair. Seated aerobics became my friend and I started boxing (in a seated position) to get out my frustrations. Two years later I was strong enough to leave the nursing home.

Louise with her trainer

I made a decision to live a healthier lifestyle by modifying my diet, exercising, and adapting cognitive behavioral strategies. I started taking nutrition and psychology classes at our local college.  I went to the Duke Diet and Fitness Center and lost over 300 pounds. I learned that all exercises can be modified to meet my needs.  I was not afraid to try new things and I took advantage of every opportunity.  I went from only being able to exercise for five minutes on a seated step machine, to completing 20,000 steps in 80 minutes.  I was getting stronger and my balance was dramatically improving. At first, I was falling every day and now I rarely fall. I participated in all classes such as: step, TRX, kickboxing, circuit training, interval training, H.I.T.T., and boot camp.I take on every new athletic endeavor with enthusiasm and pride. People watch me participating in a high intensity boot camp classes or kickboxing class and I hear them whispering “if she can do it with a walker and leg brace then I can do it”. I may do things differently, but I excel in some of the toughest fitness classes just the same. I am determined to push myself to the next tier of training.

I do not use my disability as an excuse nor do I let it get in the way. I amaze myself everyday as I conquer feats I never thought I would be able to do.  I have participated in several 2Ks, three Turkey Runs, completed fifteen 5K events including The Color Run in Washington D.C. The most memorable 5K was the Walk to End Multiple Sclerosis. I will be participating in another 5K to end Multiple Sclerosis soon!  Finally, I was able to give back to the MS Society, an organization that was instrumental to my success! The 5K I had the most fun completing was the Color Run so I will be doing more soon! By competing in races I have inspired my family and friends to get healthy and partake in their first half marathon. 

Louise at The Color Run 2014

I have gone from being bedridden, losing over 300 pounds, going from only walking a couple of steps to participating in 5Ks. I have become emotionally and physically strong. I won The Gazette 1,000 Pound Challenge; two Diet-To-Go Weight Loss Challenges; and Fleet Feet Tons of Fun Challenge. I have two more accomplishments that are VERY special to me: Prior to being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and my orthopedic problems I had two wonderful dogs. I was unable to walk them. Others had to do this for me. After they both passed away, people tried to convince me to get another dog. I told them no – I would only get another dog if I was able to walk the dog. That was over ten years ago! Three months ago I rescued a four year old Shih Tzu and he too is participating in the 100 Mile Challenge.  I am so excited! Also, I will be living on my own! I have always needed someone to help me, but I am now self-sufficient!

 I have learned so much throughout my transformation to a healthier lifestyle. I am paying it forward to people with disabilities, the elderly, and children. Currently, I am a volunteer at OASIS, an organization that promotes successful aging through learning, healthy living, and social interaction. OASIS teaches adults 50 and older how to continue living healthy, productive, and meaningful lives. Additionally, I am helping combat obesity in children. I am a volunteer for CATCH Healthy Habits. People who are fifty and older go into schools and the YMCA. We talk to children grades K to 5 about nutrition, share healthy snacks, and lead active games. I am also a motivational speaker at the Duke Diet and Fitness Center.

Paying it forward! Talking to children about nutrition and fitness

I have fought through adversities. I focus on what I can do and not on the things I cannot do. I do not let my disabilities get in the way. If there is something I want to do and my disabilities prevent me from doing it, I research and find ways that I can do it. My continued presence in the gym and at races will continue to inspire others. Giving up is not in my vocabulary. I am constantly striving to improve.  I work hard, set goals, and prove to myself and others that even with disabilities I am able to lose weight, exercise, and accomplish amazing things. Falling is a part of my life. I just have to get back up. If I let the fear of falling stop me I would never have gotten out of my wheelchair.  I am no longer watching life pass me by – I AM AN ACTIVE PARTICIPANT IN LIFE!!

One gigantic thank you to Louise for sharing her incredible journey and discussing her battle with MS. For those who aren’t quite familiar with Multiple Sclerosis (MS), it’s a chronic disease of the central nervous system. Normally, nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord send signals to each other and the body. These signals are critical to our functioning and every day life such as processing every day information, feel sensations and move in whatever way one would like. When somebody has MS, these signals sent to the brain, spine, and body become impaired or aren’t transmitted at all. This happens because, in MS, one’s immune system launches an attack against Myelin – the protective coating around your nerve fibers where the signals travel. Upon damaging or destroying the Myelin, nerve impulses cannot travel efficiently or not travel at all. (1)

What makes MS so challenging is that it’s difficult to diagnose it for the symptoms are unique to each person who has it. There are some symptoms that are more common than others such as: vertigo, speech problems, abnormal sensations, muscle weakness, spasticity, cognitive/vision problems, and fatigue. (3) Another challenge with MS is that scientists still aren’t sure what is the exact cause of MS. It’s believed that it’s a complicated interaction between one’s genes, the environment, immune system, or infections that can trigger MS, but no concrete answers just yet. (2)

MS is a disease that isn’t very well known by everyone, but it still doesn’t diminish the severity of the disease and should have more awareness brought to it. Unfortunately, there is no cure at the moment, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything that can be done. Exhibit A: Louise Polcari – she was able to combat MS and become active again. She didn’t allow it to take over her life, but instead, took charge and followed the path that she chose. Having MS shouldn’t mean you still can’t have control of your life. There are many therapies and communities filled with people who are walking in your shoes, available to help you with your fight and give you the power to call the shots when it comes to your life and body.

If you feel like you may be experiencing some of these symptoms and want to do some of your own research you can check out these websites, where most of the information and facts from this blog post were found: (1) verywell.com, (2) webmd.com, (3) healthline.com. You can find MS care providers, medication, or simply chat with an expert at the National MS Society website here: nationalmssociety.org

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