Category Archives: Exercise

She Has #MS and She Just Hiked 500 Miles!

Well, 460.75 miles (741.5 km), to be exact.

When I wrote about April Hester in late September, the headline on my post was “She Has MS and She’s Hiking 500 Miles.” Well, she did it, hiking the Palmetto Trail from Walhalla, in the South Carolina mountains, to Awendaw, on the coast. With husband Bernie alongside, April completed the hike on Nov. 3. The couple had expected the hike to take 35 to 40 days. They did it in 34!

April with MS Warrior

April with Madeline, newly diagnosed with MS, who drove eight hours to hike a bit with April.
(Photo courtesy of Bernie Hester)

April was diagnosed with MS in 1996, just after she turned 20 years old. Like many of us, she has balance and fatigue issues. Her legs can become tired, her foot sometimes drops and she falls a lot. April used “trekking” poles for the hike, even when the trail took them through through the downtown sections of some towns. She also wore ankle braces.

Needless to say, the hike wasn’t easy. Over the first seven days, the Hesters covered almost 100 miles of mountains, with some sections that were almost vertical walls. Bernie Hester tells me, “April nearly lost two toenails but we pushed through all the pain.”

The further she goes the stronger she gets

April is on one DMD, Gilenya. She also tries to eat a lot of vegetables and fish. But, Bernie says, the hiking exercise is what really builds April’s strength:

April crosses the stream

Tough going as April crosses a marsh. (Photo courtesy of Bernie Hester)

I can say from watching the progression that, as hard as it was on her in the beginning, the more exercise she did the stronger she got. The transformation happened right in front of me and it was amazing to watch. The hardest part was getting started with all the falls, short distances, quick breaks needed and learning curve of how to do long distance with MS. But once we got it down, she just got stronger and stronger.”
That’s probably a good take-away for all of us who are able to do some sort of exercise, but who don’t. Day three, as Bernie told me, was “a tough day as we ascended to Sassafras Mountain, the highest peak in South Carolina. April had a lot of struggles and we only managed to cover nine miles that day. But she pushed hard so we could make the summit and we were rewarded with a beautiful sunset.”


Isn’t that the kind of effort and reward that those of us with MS should try to seek every day?

Why did she hike?

April hiked the trail to raise awareness about the fight against MS. She also hoped to raise money for the National MS Society. Unfortunately, she fell short of a lofty goal. There’s still an opportunity to make a donation, however, by clicking here.

You can also read Bernie’s day-by-day journal of the hike by clicking on April and Bernie’s Trail Journals web page.

(This post first appeared as one of my columns on


She Has MS and She’s Hiking 500 miles

April Hester has MS. She was diagnosed in 1996, just after she turned 20 years old. Like many of us, April has balance and fatigue issues. Her legs can become tired, her foot sometimes drops and she falls a lot.

But unlike many of us, April and her husband Bernie are in the middle of a walk. More accurately, it’s a hike — a 500-mile hike, from Walhalla in the mountains of South Carolina to Awendaw on the coast, along the state’s Palmetto Trail.

Bernie and April Hester on the trail. (Courtesy of Bernie Hester)

As you can imagine, it’s not going to be easy. April is using “trekking” poles for the entire hike, even when the trail goes through the downtown sections of some towns. She’s be wearing ankle braces. But, as Bernie Hester told me in an email, “Her big problem is balance, she falls a lot and I mean a lot. Most of the time after the first 3 miles her legs get weak and her right foot experiences foot drop. We also have to break a lot so she can keep going. Then sometimes she can just go, we had a day where she had some issues early then caught her second wind and we did 22 miles, I was the one holding us up!”

The two expect that the toughest parts of the hike will be the beginning and the end. The start of the trail has a lot of hills and valleys, with rugged terrain on the trail sections and a lack of re-supply options. The end is a remote section over 50 miles long, through a national forest. Again, few resources will be available, no re-supply areas are around, and it has a lot of swamps.

Packed and ready to go. (Courtesy of Bernie Hester)

Believe it or not, this couple has hiked this trail before. They did a similar hike this year, from February through April. Back then, they spent only a few nights in tents and a lot of nights in hotel rooms. They also skipped some highways that span some gaps in the trail. This time will be different, and more difficult. As Bernie explains on the couple’s Trail Journals website, “we will get dropped off this Sunday morning with what’s on our backs and other than the caches & care packages we are on our own for the next 500 plus miles to the coast.”

Bernie and April say they’re making this hike to raise awareness about the fight against MS. They’re also hoping to raise money for the National MS Society… $100,000, in fact. (You can donate here.)

The hike began on Sunday, Oct. 1 and as of Oct 16 they were about 200 miles into it. Bernie and April expect the full hike to last 35 or 40 days. You can follow the pair at the Trail Journals website or on Instagram.

(This is an updated version of a post that first appeared as my column on

Pilates for M.S.?

(This post first appeared as one of my columns on

Have you tried Pilates to improve your mobility?  When my wife and I tried it, a few years ago, I thought that it was sort of like doing yoga stretches using exercise equipment.  It felt good and, for the short time that I did kept it up, Pilates seemed to improve my flexibility, somewhat.

Pilates is a stretching and exercise program focuses on trunk muscles and there’s plenty of evidence that, in healthy folks, it improves flexibility, balance and muscle endurance.  But there haven’t been many studies that have examined whether people with MS receive the same benefits.  One of the few that was done came from researchers at Izmi University in Turkey and was published, last March, in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science.

Pilates Versus Traditional Exercise

In the Izmi study twenty MS patients were studied, 65% of them women.  Eleven did Pilates exercises and the remaining 9 exercised traditionally. People in both groups were, on average, in their late 40s and had a disability score of about 3 on the Expanded Disability Status Scale (EDSS). (Someone with an EDSS score of 3 is pretty mobile, with no impairment to walking). All of the patients had had MS for about 15 years.  The exercise program was organized in two weekly sessions, each 45–60 minutes long, for eight weeks.

That study found that both groups improved on all physical performance tests, including rolling to the left and right, sitting up from sitting and standing from sitting, as well as a 50-foot walking test.  The patients using Pilates, however, also improved their balance, had less fatigue, and improved their scores on a cognitive test. The patients who were doing traditional exercises improved their arm function and their performance on the timed up and go tests.  A second analysis found that cognition and quality of life were better only in the Pilates group.

Pilates Versus Physical Therapy

Another study was conducted at Israel’s Sheba Medical Center.  This one compared Pilates with physical therapy. Forty-five MS patients participated with half receiving 12 week of outpatient PT and the other half receiving Pilates sessions.

The results, published in Clinical Rehabilitation, showed that both groups had significantly increased their walking speed and the length of their walking strides. Overall, the researchers felt that both approaches helped MS patients.

How About You?

Interested in trying Pilates?  The Mayo Clinic has some excellent information about it on its web site.

Have you ever tried Pilates?  If so, did it help?  Please let me know about your experience.



MS Marathoner: 1 Continent Down, 6 to Go

(This is an update of my column posted last week on

Tripping, falling and bloody knees.

Been there. Done that. (Who with MS hasn’t)?  But this wasn’t me.  This was Cheryl Hile and it was happening to her as she was running a half marathon in Carlsbad, California.

Cheryl had been running marathons for half a dozen years when, in 2006, she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.  She says the diagnosis left her “devastated and very scared.”  She was also depressed.   Cheryl dealt with that depression by continuing to run.  But then, after that stumble in Carlsbad, Cheryl’s neurologist told her that it happened because she had foot drop…when her right foot should have been raising it was dragging.  And then the doctor tacked on a suggestion: lower your expectations, shafose warned.

“That p***ed me off,” Cheryl told  But rather than lower her expectations, Cheryl raised them.  Cheryl worked with an orthotist who fit her with a light, durable carbon fiber brace, called an Ankle-Foot Orthotic (AFO), that held her dropped foot at an angle that would allow her to run.

Since then Cheryl has completed 30 half marathons, 31 full marathons and one 30 mile race with an AFO on her leg.

7 in 7 in 12

And is she’s doing more.  Cheryl has made it a goal to become the first person with MS to run icheryl-cape-town-2n seven marathons…on seven continents!  And, she plans to do all seven in just 12 months. Take that, “Doctor No”!!

Cheryl completed first of these seven marathons in Cape Town, South Africa  last Sunday, with a time of 4 hours, 51 minutes and 51 seconds.  Next comes Buenos Aires in October, Honolulu in December, Antarctica in January, Tokyo in February, Vienna in April and she plans to finish in Christchurch, New Zealand in June 2017.


Running Slower and Looking a Bit Strange

In addition to foot drop, Cheryl had four exacerbations in one year that left the right side of her body much weaker. At one point she could only lift her right leg an inch off the


ground. She recovered a bit and can now lift it about 4-5 inches. She says her foot drop coupled with a weak thigh makes her a much slower runner. Cheryl pushes off with the left side of her body and, she says, the right side of her body is basically “along for the ride. I have a funny gait and my right leg swings out, so watch out if you are running next to me!”

It’s More Than a Marathon for Cheryl

“The primary reason I am doing this journey is to give back to the MS Society,” Cheryl wrote me in an email.  “They educated me about the disease and encouraged me to keep moving when I was first diagnosed and depressed. I want to be a role model for newly diagnosed to encourage them to do what they can and to never give up!”

So, on hercheryl-cape-town-1 CrowdRise web page, where she’s raising funds to cover this expensive journey, there’s a link for direct donations to the National MS Society.  Cheryl says that once she’s reached her travel-expense goal she hopes to raise at least another $10,000 for the Society.

It’s not an inexpensive journey.  Cheryl hopes to raise close to $60,000.  Her biggest expense will be the marathon in Antarctica – nearly $8,000 per person.  “I really do hope I make this fund raising goal,” Cheryl told me. “I am a frugal traveler and I am taking measures to cut costs.” When Cheryl and her husband landed in Cape Town at 9:45PM, for example, instead of going straight to a hotel for that first night, they saved money by staying at a cheapo motel across from the airport.  “As long as I have a teapot or kettle in my hotel room,” she says, “I know I can have oatmeal for breakfast and gnocchi for dinner!”

We’ll keep track of Cheryl Hile on The MS Wire and wish her the best as she consistently pushes toward the finish line.

Exercise for MS – I’m starting a 14 week plan

I’m about to start a new adventure:  Exercise.

Well, it’s not really new. I swim some laps most days in the summer, weather permitting.  In the cooler months I do some upper body strength exercises a couple of days a week, my spirit permitting.  But, in all the years that I’ve had Multiple Sclerosis I’ve never really had a structured exercise program.  Today I’m investigating a way to start down that road.

Browsing the National MS Society’s web site last week I found a link to an organization that I’d never heard of; the National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability and the NHPAD’s “14 Week Program to a Healthier You.”  The program promises to set me up with a free, personalized, web-based physical activity and nutrition program with a goal of encouraging me to exercise and to make health nutrition choices.

Getting started with a plan

I registered on the web site Saturday and signing on this morning I saw a bunch of exercise video exercises waiting for me.  They’re separated under tabs for “cardio,” “strength,” “flexibility” and “mind/body,” plus a 5 minute daily warmup.  I’m particularly interested in improving my lower body flexibility so I’ll be checking that out first.

The NHPAD is all about getting you moving

The NHPAD has been around since 1999.  Its mission, according to its web site, is to “help people with disability and other chronic health conditions achieve health benefits through increased participation in all types of physical and social activities, including fitness and aquatic activities, recreational and sports programs, adaptive equipment usage, and more.”

It took a bit of research to find out who’s behind this group but it turns out to be a collaboration between the School of Health Professions at the University of Alabama in Birmingham and the Lakeshore Foundation; a Birmingham, Alabama based non-profit that provides fitness and recreation programs to people with all sorts of physical disabilities programs.

So, off I go.  Hope I can stick with this.  I’ll keep you posted.  Stay tuned.