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The Footfalls of Faith

‘Catching Kayla’ reminds Christians that weak runners must finish strong

by Peter Benyola
Kayla Montgomery, who has multiple sclerosis, is carried off by her running coach, Patrick Cromwell, after collapsing following a victory in a race during high school. (photo: Phil Ponder and CBC News)

Kayla Montgomery, who has multiple sclerosis, is carried off by her running coach, Patrick Cromwell, after collapsing following a victory in a race during high school. (photo: Phil Ponder and CBC News)

 

This week went viral on social media a video telling the remarkable story of a young athlete who has achieved being one of the top long-distance runners in North Carolina. By all appearances, Kayla Montgomery is a healthy and normal 19-year-old, except that she has a disability known as “multiple sclerosis,” or MS. Wanting to remain athletic after her diagnosis, she was unable to continue contact sports such as soccer, so she chose to take up running. Despite her condition, she competes anyway, and her resolve usually triggers an attack of her MS, causing her to lose feeling in her legs, lose motor control, and fall into her coach’s arms at the finish line.

MS is an autoimmune disease affecting the body’s nervous system, in which the brain does not properly communicate with the spinal cord, which can disable other organs and extremities. MS can be extremely debilitating and has no known cure. There are several main types: one in which symptoms are relapsing-remitting, another in which the symptoms get progressively worse, and in some cases, types where relapses become worse and more frequent, progressing the effects of the disease.

Kayla apparently deals with the episodic version of the disorder at this point. A friend of my family named Nick suffered with a progressive form of the disease, which many would consider much worse. Earlier in his life, he walked with a cane, then a walker, and by the time I was a child, Nick was in a wheelchair but was able to sit up at a table and eat and talk on his own. Within a few years, he was completely bedridden and lived in an assisted-living facility. When his family, my family and I went to visit him on Sunday every few weeks, he could not move and could barely speak on his own, but he was completely lucid and his joy was palpable when he got visitors. As far as I know, Nick never complained about his condition and he held out hope of recovery until he succumbed to the effects of the disease on his vital organs. I remember seeing an old black-and-white portrait of Nick with his cane standing in the middle of a large number of his students in front of the school in the Bronx where he used to teach.

Kayla and Nick probably come from very different walks of life, but what they both had in common was a disorder that affected their lives and chose to make the best of it. I don’t know if either of them were Christians, but I can’t help but compare their stories with the race that each and every single Christian is called to run to the end.

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