Riding in defiance of MS
The Johnson MS Bike Tour Leduc to Camrose had about 1,800 cyclists take part in this year's event this past weekend. Leah Simonot/Camrose Canadian
Karma Deakin-Harb has had many difficult days om the last seven years, Saturday was not one of them.
Ninety kilometres of country side lay between Camrose and Leduc, a beautiful backdrop for the first day of Deakin-Harb’s ride against Multiple Sclerosis.
“I was looking at all the animals — at one point there was a dog running alongside me, which was awesome,” said Deakin-Harb, who joined more than 1,600 cyclists on the 180-kilometre Johnson MS Bike Tour June 9 and 10. “I didn’t have much going on in my mind. I just felt peace.”
Deakin-Harb was diagnosed with MS in 2011. It was being selected as a community representative for a biomedical grant review committee in Toronto that made her mind to join the tour after two years volunteering at the MS Bike check.
“I really realized that it is so important to have this money to fund this valuable research. That’s when I decided,” she said. “I came back from Toronto and I signed up for the MS Bike right away.”
The lead up to the tour was overwhelming. Her team of eight, Basintek-for the HELLth of it, fundraised almost $40,000 to support MS research and services in accordance with the MS Society of Canada’s mission statement. But come Saturday morning, she was focussed on the moment, and enjoyed her four-and-a-half-hour ride getting to know one of her teammates better, as they talked the whole way.
It was with mixed-emotions that Deakin-Harb received her diagnosis after the strange sequence of events that led up to it seven years ago. Initially, the optometrist she went to about problems with her vision told her she was wearing too much make-up. A later visit to an ophthalmologist suggested she had a brain tumor. At last a neurologist revealed she had MS.
“I was just really happy that I didn’t have a brain tumor and I wouldn’t have to have surgery. But then, as I started doing research, I was like wait, this is not so good. This is not so good for my future.”
She was 26-years-old at the time and her father had recently died.
“I was just in a fog of, ‘I don’t even know what’s going on with my life,’” she said.” I felt very weak. I felt very helpless … I didn’t know if the next day I would wake up not being able to walk. That’s the reality of MS.”
MS is a disease of the central nervous system that interferes with the brain’s signals to the rest of the body. Symptoms can include vision problems, impaired speech, loss of mobility, numbness and tingling and paralysis. There is no known cause of MS, a disease that affects one in every 385 Canadians — that is over 77,000 people. The disease is unpredictable and causes different symptoms in different people.
Deakin-Harb has relapsing-remitting MS, which is characterized by unpredictable but clearly defined attacks or flare-ups, and has not had a major relapse since her initial one.
In the years since her diagnosis, she’s evolved from her initial terror to emphasize living in the now.
“Let’s face it: anybody could have an unfortunate reality. You could wake up tomorrow and be hit by a car. You could wake up tomorrow, or not wake up tomorrow. Everybody has that. I’ve started to realize that and, as such, I do things now in defiance of my MS,” said Deakin-Harb.
She makes a point of staying fit to work with her body to combat her MS in any way possible, teaching spin classes three days a week and doing HIIT training the other four days.
“I don’t fight my body anymore. It’s just, it is what it is,” said Deakin-Harb. “I am going to be the strongest woman I can be right now. And who knows in how many years that will change, so all I can focus on right now is in the moment, this moment right here, like doing this kind of ride.”
The Johnson MS Leduc to Camrose bike tour is the largest and longest-standing MS Bike event in Canada and is on-track to meet its fundraising goal of $2 Million by the end of September. Donations remain open on-line at mssoc.convio.net.