‘I’ve Turned A Negative Into A Positive’
When Ivan Prue received a life-changing diagnosis, running took on new meaning in his life
After an MS diagnosis, running took on new meaning for Ivan Prue
AFTER LACING UP HIS TRAINERS for a run, Ivan Prue reminds himself of his philosophy. ‘I treat every run as if it could be my last, so make the most of it,’ says the 47-year-old from Bangor, Northern Ireland. ‘I’m just thankful I can still do what I love.’
Ivan’s passion for running began in 2005 after a health scare. He’d had hospital tests to investigate a frequent tingling sensation in his fingers and toes. Doctors thought it could be caused by a mild bout of an immune-system disorder and the symptoms soon eased.
But it was the wake-up call he needed. At the time, Big Ivan, as his friends called him – he’s 6ft 6in – weighed more than 21st (133kg). ‘Standing on the scales was an eyeopener. I was seriously overweight,’ he says. ‘I began running, which at first was waddling from one lamp post to the next.’
As the weight fell off – he lost more than 6st (38kg) – Ivan’s confidence soared. He began posting decent times for 5K races and beyond. At the 2008 Berlin Marathon, he ran a personal best of 3:12
Then, with hopes of going even faster at the 2009 Dublin Marathon, Ivan’s world came crashing down. ‘I was heading out for a regular long bike ride but kept losing my balance and eventually fell off,’ he recalls. ‘I ended up in A&E knowing that something was seriously wrong with my health – it was really scary.’
During a week in hospital, he had a series of neurological tests, including an MRI scan. Then he was given the shattering news: ‘I was told I had multiple sclerosis [MS]. I was devastated. I remember asking, “Am I going to be in a wheelchair?”’
Ivan has relapsing remitting MS (85 per cent of those with MS have this form of the condition). MS affects the body’s nerves and with the relapsing remitting form, symptoms can flare up often, with little warning. They can be mild to severe and last for days, weeks or months before fading away. These episodes leave lasting nerve damage.
‘I was in denial,’ says Ivan. ‘I didn’t tell anyone, including my mum.’ Soon after leaving hospital, he ran a 10-mile race, in which he came 14th, and two months later, in October 2009, ran 3:16 in the Dublin Marathon. ‘I was delighted to have run Dublin that quickly because I fell, possibly because of my MS, at 25 miles, breaking a rib,’ he says. ‘I decided MS wasn’t going to stop me. I suppose I thought I could run away from my diagnosis.’
But in December that year the disease caught up with him. One day at work he suffered such a serious relapse he thought he was having a stroke. Ivan spent a month in hospital, at first unable to speak, and barely able to move after being temporarily paralysed down his left side by the flare-up. He recovered, but was left with a permanent weakness on that side. ‘I had to tell my mum, who was heartbroken.’
Ivan’s consultant prescribed him Tysabri, a powerful drug that slows down the progressive symptoms of MS. But there are side effects, the most terrifying of which being that it can lead to a potentially fatal viral infection in the brain or spinal cord. Each month Ivan receives an infusion of the drug in hospital. So far, it has resulted in him having more good than bad days, meaning he can go for regular runs. Once the drug began working, it signalled a turning point in his attitude to the MS. ‘I stopped being embarrassed and accepted that it was now part of who I was,’ says Ivan.
Although laid up in hospital in January 2010, Ivan was determined to complete the London Marathon that April. ‘I’m a fighter but I still couldn’t believe I was actually doing the marathon after feeling so awful only weeks earlier,’ recalls Ivan. ‘I walked, jogged and stumbled my way, finishing in 6:02, almost three hours slower than my best time.
‘I cried like a baby when I crossed the line. It might have been my worst time but it was the best feeling in the world to have done it.’
Ivan’s efforts at London proved to him that he wanted to keep running, even if chasing PBS was no longer his priority. ‘My body started to repair itself – my leftsided weakness didn’t hinder me too much – and I began to get stronger,’ says Ivan, who took early retirement from his estate manager’s job four years ago. ‘I dropped the competitive side and ran more for fun. I was so excited I could run after thinking it had been ripped away from me.’
Ivan also began encouraging others to run. He helped establish Bangor’s parkrun and he coaches Ward Park Runners, a local group for runners of all abilities, some with difficulties similar to Ivan’s. He also promotes the work of the MS Society in Northern Ireland. ‘I’ve managed to twist the negative from MS into a positive.’ He is training for this year’s Dublin Marathon and also has London 2019 in his sights. There’s no clinical evidence that running keeps MS at bay, but Ivan believes it helps maintain his positive attitude to dealing with it.
‘I have a mantra: improvise, adapt and overcome,’ he says. ‘I truly believe that is my way to keep running as a big part of my life.’
‘ I STILL COULDN’T BELIEVE I WAS DOING THE MARATHON AFTER FEELING SO AWFUL’
Though he's less competitive these days, Ivan still loves to run