Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis Through Movement, Goals and Community

July 3, 2023 by
Photo Credit: Gina Cafiero
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In 2006, Doug Rinard began noticing a numbness and tingling in his limbs, severe fatigue and occasional blurred vision. He had no family history or precursors for disease. 

Xrays revealed no broken bones or slipped discs, which could possibly have been the culprit. Physical activity ceased. Rinard had been lifting weights, and leading an active life, but no longer could. 

After multiple doctor visits and differing opinions, Rinard was referred to a neurologist and was given both a brain and spine MRI. It was there that lesions were discovered on his lower brain stem and upper spinal cord. Rinard had Multiple Sclerosis. 

He was 29 years old. 

Rinard took the diagnosis with extreme difficulty. Causes and triggers of MS are a mystery: it could be a combination of genetics and environmental exposures, but there are no definitive answers as to what Doug could have done differently to alter this inevitable outcome. 

  • “When I was diagnosed with MS, I took it very hard mentally,” said Rinard. “I couldn’t figure out what I did wrong. With no cause or cure, it’s not something easy to get past. I thought I could take action and make plans, but I found too much contradictory info and opinions. This lack of trust about information felt like a lack of control. I won’t pretend that I turned that corner quickly, but I will say that I eventually did.” 

For ten years, Rinard treated his relapsing-remitting MS with steroids, which were administered via daily shots. He also underwent yearly MRIs to monitor progression of the disease. 

With such vague and contradictory information available, it was Rinard’s best guess as to how to best manage and live with MS. 

  •  “I decided that I wanted to make the most of the unknown years I had with my body functionality. I chose to manage MS through medication, diet and exercise,” said Rinard.

When Rinard first began exercising in a way to manage his MS, he ran, lifted weights, swam, and competed in local triathlons and races. While these activities and events helped his fitness, and did indeed help to manage his MS symptoms, he felt that they provided temporary goals. His effort would slide for months at a time until he found a new interest or physical focus. 

Eventually, Rinard found CrossFit. 

  • “CrossFit provided me with such variety and goals that I never got bored,” recalls Rinard. 

But as a new member of a larger, fit and somewhat intimidating community, Rinard was concerned that his diagnosis would overshadow who he was as a person and as an athlete.

  • “When I joined… I withheld my MS from all the coaches and athletes. I was so scared of being treated differently than others. I desired to be pushed and challenged, which I was. I often overcompensated by lifting too heavy because I was scared to appear weak.” 
  • “It was about two to three years later that I trusted everyone there enough to disclose that I had MS. I trusted everyone there to interact with me based on my past performance, not a preconceived notion of what I could do.” 
  • “I strongly believe that my increased level of physical fitness through CrossFit has helped slow progression and relapses of my MS. Whether it’s just the physicality or the improved positive outlook it brings, CrossFit has been a game changer for my health and well being,” said Rinard. 

At this point, Rinard and his partner Jarry have been members of their CrossFit gym for eight years. Since he has joined, Rinard has had few relapses that have affected his performance. He feels that his new sport has provided him with such variety and diverse goals, that he never gets bored, nor does he lose motivation to workout each day. 

  • “With CrossFit, I have spent eight years chasing a thousand different goals. The variety in exercise and mobility has kept me engaged, even through pandemic years. Every day is a new focus and the athletes around me provide new motivation to push harder. I also see evidence of positive improvement through the leaderboard,” said Rinard. 

In recent years, with the addition of the adaptive divisions, Rinard has grown to have an even deeper love and passion for the sport. 

  • “I have…been proud of CrossFit for including adaptive categories. It’s made something most people would hide about themselves into a badge of honor. It’s opened the doors to so many people that normally would have been lost in the background and has celebrated their efforts,” said Rinard. 

While he currently takes medication three times a week to manage his condition, Rinard still has to find ways to cope with recurring symptoms that can crop up during his workouts. Numbness and tingling have become the norm, which often doesn’t affect performance. At times, he has to modify loads when feeling fatigued and overtaxed. 

He has to take stock of his stress levels, so that he can attempt to remove those stressors or seek assistance. Rinard finds that through having CrossFit goals, those outside factors, causing mental distress, drastically decrease. 

Lastly, Rinard finds it crucial to his health to surround himself with a positive, supportive community. He contributes his success in CrossFit and his health to having people that lift him up and motivate him on tough days. He expressed that just showing up to class is guaranteed to raise his spirits. 

And the motivation is shared amongst his community. Rinard is surrounded by friends that look to him each day for support, inspiration and kind words. He builds them up, just as they do him. As a treasured member of his gym, Rinard’s presence at the workouts each day brings light to everyone sweating alongside him. 

Rinard: “(Upon finding CrossFit) I chose not to sit back and waste those opportunity years ahead. I chose to stop limiting myself! I am in no way perfect… but you’ll never see me fall completely off the wagon.”

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