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Most athletes and trainers believe that one has to be in optimal health to perform well. But don't tell that to Kayla Montgomery. The senior at Mount Tabor High School in North Carolina, who competes in long-distance track and cross country running has repeatedly proved that sheer determination and desire to win, more than make up for any physical limitations.
And nobody can attest to that more than Kayla, who suffers from multiple sclerosis (MS), a progressive disease that impacts the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, resulting in numbness of limbs. This means that when Kayla begins a race, she can feel her legs moving just like any other athlete. However, at about the one-mile marker she starts to feel a tingling sensation and soon after, loses all feeling in both legs. She is only able to continue due to the momentum built up during the initial leg of the race.
Though that does not seem to bother the young girl or affect her speed during the race, it does create a problem when she is trying to stop, because her legs literally give away under her. But Kayla and her coach Patrick Cromwell, have found a workable solution around that. At every race, the coach simply positions himself at the end of the finish line so that Kayla can collapse into his arms, without getting hurt.
While that works at the finish line, mid-fall races can be a little trickier. In 2013, whilst competing in a state cross country meet, Kayla accidently stepped on the heel of another runner and crashed. While the other competitor was able to jump right back up and continue, it was a lot harder for Kayla who had no sensation in her legs. The determined young girl not only managed to get back by hoisting herself using a nearby fence, but also, finishing the race in 10th place!
An avid athlete since early childhood, Kayla's health issues first surfaced at the age of 14 when she collapsed whilst playing soccer. After numerous tests, the young girl was diagnosed with MS.
While the adults in her life all thought that the debilitating disease would sideline the young athlete, it did not seem to faze Kayla. She became even more determined to keep running - and with coach Cromwell at her side every step of the way, she has.
In February 2014, Kayla won the North Carolina State title in the 3,200-meters and earned herself an invite to the New Balance Nationals Indoor Championships held in New York City on March 14 & 15th.
Kayla did not disappoint - The amazing athlete who raced in the 5,000-meter event placed 8th with an impressive time of 17:16.82, beating her personal record by 6 seconds!
Currently ranked 21st nationally in indoor track, Kayla who is heading to Nashville's Lipscomb University on a scholarship, plans to keep running for as long as possible. Her determination to succeed is not only allowing her to stay a step ahead of MS, but also, inspiring other youngsters to pursue their dreams irrespective of the challenges they face.
Resources: Npr.com, deadspin.com, news-record.com