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.
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.
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.
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!!