Profiles in Courage: How Kyla Montgomery Outruns MS
By Shlomo Maital
Meet Kyla Montgomery. She is one of America’s leading high school athletes in the mile race, a very difficult race that today is run almost at a sprint, for the whole four minute plus distance.
Kyla is a profile in courage. Three years ago, she was disgnosed with MS, multiple sclerosis, a disease in which the insulating covers of the nerve cells are damaged, making it hard for the nerves to send messages to the brain. It is a debilitating disease, that can be treated but as yet not cured.
Strangely, according to today’s New York Times (“Challenge like no other for runner with MS”, March 5), Kyla’s MS affliction gives her an advantage. She cannot feel the pain in her legs when she runs, and when you run the mile, the pain is quite severe, because it is a race that creates an oxygen debt in the muscles and naturally, they complain. But Kyla’s brain can’t hear the complaints from her leg muscles, because the nerves don’t transmit it. (The U.S. women’s high school record for the mile was recently broken, at 4:32! by a 16-year-old).
But there is a disadvantage too. She cannot stop. When she stops, at the end of the race, she collapses, as her legs simply give out. Her coach has to catch her and carry her. If she stumbles within the race, as she once did, she has trouble getting up. (She once crawled to a fence, pulled herself up to her feet – and dashed ahead, finishing 10th!). In one race, when officials forgot they had to catch her, she collapsed after finishing, right onto her face. Some ignorant people in the audience called her a ‘wimp’. She is quite the opposite.
When Kyla was diagnosed with MS, she told her coach that “I don’t know how much time I have left (to run, after being diagnosed with MS), so I want to run fast – don’t hold back!”. She improved her time from 24:29 for five kilometers, to 17:22 (yes, that’s just over 3 minutes per kilometer…).
Kyla was rejected by many universities’ sports programs. But finally, Lipscomb University in Tennessee saw the light. She won an athletic scholarship there, and will run for them. We wish her luck.