Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 June 2019

Triathlete defies MS diagnosis to get back on the track

Louise Grace first competed in the Abu Dhabi triathlon in 2017, just two days after being told of her condition, and she'll be taking part again on Friday

Louise Grace, 39, had multiple sclerosis diagnosed two years ago but is back in Abu Dhabi to complete the World Triathlon Series at Yas Island. Khushnum Bhandari for The National
Louise Grace, 39, had multiple sclerosis diagnosed two years ago but is back in Abu Dhabi to complete the World Triathlon Series at Yas Island. Khushnum Bhandari for The National

A triathlete who competed in a race in Abu Dhabi days after receiving a life altering MS diagnosis has returned to take part in the event again and move forward with her life.

Louise Grace, from the UK, began to feel unwell shortly after Christmas in 2017. First she felt weak and shaky, like she was coming down with the flu, but this later deteriorated to the point that she could no longer walk.

Her doctor referred her to hospital, where she was admitted on suspicion of suffering from a stroke. She spent 10 days in hospital where she underwent a battery of tests before being told at discharge she was probably suffering from multiple sclerosis.

MS is an unpredictable, often disabling, degenerating disease that damages the nervous system, disrupting the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body.

The diagnosis of relapsing remitting MS, where symptoms wax and wane, was confirmed nine weeks later — just two days after she boarded a plane to Abu Dhabi to take part in the ITU World Triathlon Series.

It was very hard. I would have wanted to do [the triathlon] faster. It wasn’t very pretty

Louise Grace

Ms Grace had completed five or six triathlons by that point, having first taken up running in 2012.

“I had read about Couch to 5K [a nine-week running program]. I thought I would give that a go. I started running. And the first triathlon I did was in 2014, I think,” she said.

And many assumed her MS diagnosis would be the end of them.

“Everyone said you can’t do the triathlon now, obviously. So I didn’t tell anyone I was coming out to compete,” said Ms Grace, a mother of three.

“Because my dad lived out here at the time — he is retired now — I said I was going to go and see my dad. They said that’s very sensible. So I quietly took my bike and all my gear. And I didn’t tell anyone until after I had finished the race.”

Having not fully recovered from the attack, her right leg was still weak, giving her a “wonky walk”. She had not run since, either.

“It was very hard. I would have wanted to do it faster. It wasn’t very pretty,” she said.

“But it was possibly the best finish I have done. It was the best medal I have earned.”

She has competed in two triathlons since then, both of which were in her local area, Southend in Essex.

Her health has been “up and down” and she has undergone fairly intense treatment.

But on Friday, she will take part in the Daman World Triathlon Abu Dhabi.

“I am probably in worse condition this time than I was when I came out the first time. I had treatment again in December that was quite hard going,” said Ms Grace.

“But coming back here feels like coming full circle since the beginning of my illness. It closes that beginning chapter maybe, so I can go forward with maybe living with it rather than coping with the diagnosis.”

Updated: March 7, 2019 05:57 PM

SHARE

SHARE