Canadian Running

Crossing the Line

Running With Greg

- Brad Woods is a father, storytelle­r and educator who runs in and around Guelph, Ont. By Brad Woods

In most respects, my older brothers, Jeff and Greg, make me better at everything I do. They encourage and inspire me, both in my profession­al life as a storytelle­r and educator, and personally, through the friendship­s we share. The exception is running. All three of us run, but I run faster, farther and more often than they do.

A few years ago I ran the Canada Army Run half-marathon in Ottawa with Greg, a high-school communicat­ions technology teacher in the Toronto area. It was his first half-marathon. He finished well enough, but we agreed he could do better, and within a couple of months, we were both training for our next half-marathon. During one of his long runs, Greg had a strange sensation up and down one side of his body. He knew something wasn’t right, so he got an assessment, a diagnosis and a second opinion. Greg had developed multiple sclerosis.

All of us reacted with disbelief and fear. MS is a degenerati­ve disorder of the central nervous system for which there is, as yet, no cure. It can affect the brain, spinal cord, limbs, muscles, balance and co-ordination – essentiall­y, your overall ability to function. Greg experience­d typical early symptoms (numbness and discomfort). These have remained consistent on the right side of his body.

But he refused to let fear take over. Somehow, he seemed to take it in stride, almost welcoming it. It was inspiring to watch him seek a variety of treatments and remedies, consistent­ly choosing creativity and resourcefu­lness over panic and pessimism. He adjusted what he ate, when he slept, how he worked and the way he exercised. Essentiall­y, he altered the way he lives.

He counts himself fortunate that this has worked for him, and we know that might not always be the case – that things could change or get worse. I believe his symptoms have remained manageable thanks to his determinat­ion and diligence in changing his lifestyle habits, but I’m aware that not everyone is so fortunate. The good news is, if his symptoms do increase and he is no longer able to deal with it on his own, medical treatments are available. Greg has said, “Had my symptoms been debilitati­ng, I would have agreed to the immune-suppressin­g medication that my neurologis­t was suggesting.”

Thankfully, he has been able to continue teaching, to make music and art, as well as to hike, bike and paddle a canoe. He has also continued running. Not as fast or as far as before, but running nonetheles­s.

In many ways, Greg seems healt hier, happier and f it ter now. “I feel like my diagnosis forced me into a much healthier lifestyle that was a long time coming,” he says. As his quality of life seemed to i mprove, I couldn’t help but work on my own. True to form, Greg was leading by example. The fact that he kept running despite the discomfort, the uncertaint­y and the changes ensured that I would as well. His newfound commitment to health was all the motivation I would ever need on the days when I was looking for an excuse not to run.

Though I still run faster, farther and more often than either of my brothers, Greg is definitely now the best runner of the three of us. When he runs, it is with greater intention, purpose and focus. He still hasn’t run that second half-marathon, and I’m not sure that he ever will. He seems less concerned with times and distances and more interested in simply getting outside, putting one foot in front of the other, appreciati­ng the opportunit­y and recognizin­g how good it makes him feel.

Greg will always have MS, but his example has taught me about priorities, discipline and resilience – the things that running is really all about. As a result, he has made me a better runner.

I can now say with confidence that my brothers have made me better at everything I do.

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