Today I shall walk my seventeenth consecutive Indianapolis 500 Festival Mini-Marathon®. Two years ago, I blogged here about the reasons I walk the Mini.
In 1994, I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. By the second day in the hospital, I completely had lost use of my legs. That evening—or maybe it was the next; things were a bit of a blur—a neurologist visited my room to inform me of the diagnosis. He said, “You have MS.” I was goofy on the drugs I had been administered—lawfully and by a licensed physician authorized to prescribe medications—and joked, “Wow—that’s cool.” The neurologist looked at me with an odd expression on his face. I said, “Not many people have a disease the acronym for which is their initials.” (Note: Jeff Cox correctly has pointed out to me, in a different matter, an acronym is a word formed by the first letters of whatever. He is right, but this is what I said.) The neurologist when on, a bit perplexed. He said something to the effect that the medical community knows little about MS (not true even then), but there are cerain demographics indicative of greater risk: including people with better educations are more likely to be diagnosed with “MS.” I said, “You mean like college? I knew the dorm food would come back to haunt me one day.” The neurologist left the room.
After nine days, I was released from the hospital, able to get around on crutches.
Multiple Sclerosis is—what? When I think of a “disease,” I think of an infection or other malady in which an outside pathogen gets into the body to cause illness. Multiple Sclerosis is different. As I understand it, I was genetically pre-disposed to a set of circumstances whereby I was susceptible to mononucleosis. (I had “mono” twice—shortly after I graduated from high school, and during second semester of my Freshman year in college.) “Mono” set my system into a condition that, two decades later, was susceptible, given stressors in my environment, to specific t-cells in my immune system attacking the myelin sheath of my central nervous system (or “CNS”). The myelin sheath (common simile I am about to use) is, to the CNS what insulation is to electrical wires. When the myelin sheath is seen as a foreign body by the t-cells and attacked during what is called an exacerbation (an “attack” of Multiple Sclerosis), parts of the body short out. Multiple Sclerosis hits people differently, given where, on the CNS the t-cells attack.
I was lucky. I was hit in an area of the spine that relays information to the lower body. (I also have a form of MS in which I only have had one exacerbation in the past 20 years.)
I began to walk in the mornings, very early and before work. The pace quickened. Communications between my brain and my lower body improved.
Even before 1986, when I moved to Indianapolis, I knew about the Mini, and friends and acquaintances who used the Mini as a goal for various reasons, usually personal and specific to the person. As I walked during those mornings, in the months then years after my release from the hospital, I decided to go for it, and registered for the 1999 Mini.
As I walked down the slight slope on the bridge on New York Street and the last mile or so of the course that year, my eyes watered. My personal reason was to flip the bird at the thing called Multiple Sclerosis.
Yesterday I picked up my race packet at the Convention Center. The 500 Festival organizers had put up a big sheet of poly-something on which people could write “why I run” or “why I walk” the Mini. One of the volunteers offered me a Sharpie® to write on the sheet. I walked up to it, found a spot near the bottom still open enough, sat cross-legged, and wrote something like: “I have MS/I could not walk/Now I can/This is my 17th consecutive Mini.–Mark Small.”
I teared up a little as I left the place.
Here are a few tips to folks who do their first Mini today:
Be careful of the folks around you. They might not know your pace or anticipate you are about to change your line.
If you feel like you might be about to feel bad—pull over. If Mario and Michael slowed down at the 500, you can, too. A ride on a golf cart to the nurses’ station is better than heat stroke. And those folks are there to help you.
Do not be confused about the weather. The air might seem cool, but asphalt heats up. Even a few degrees can have an effect. Try not to tarry so you get around the track as early and as quickly as you feasibly and safely can.
Don’t let anyone spray you with a hose to cool down. You don’t want water in your shoes that will cause your feet to blister.
I wish everyone the best today—and have a safe race. Even though I start in the Fifth wave and the letter “Y”—at one time I was a “K,” and, no, I am not a fan of the University of Kentucky—I still, technically, could go fast and win the whole thing.
Right. I am a fan of the Chicago Cubs National League Baseball Club. I can be a bit unrealistic.
If all goes as it has the past few years, I will finish in about three and a half hours. I shall hold up “17" in some form for the cameras as I cross the Yard of Bricks® at IMS. I shall get teary-eyed as I near the finish line.
Thanks to all the people who volunteer to make the Mini “go.” Thanks to all the volunteers who hand out water and Gatorade (and the folks with the little trays of shots of beer).
Thanks to all the bands and cloggers and other performers who do their thing to entertain along the course.
And a special thanks to all who have taken the time to read this blog today.
I now shall do my pre-Mini prep. I shall mow down some chocolate frosted donette gems, continue to hydrate, shower, dress, feed the cats, clean the litter boxes, and wait for a friend who said she will pick me up at 7:30 for a lift to the Start.
This is my seventeenth. Next year I shall do my eighteenth.