MS Sufferer Turned Long-Distance Runner

Kayla Montgomery turned to running during a difficult time. Now, she's a Division I athlete.

December 17, 2015
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Running can be a taxing, painful endeavor for the average person. It’s not always an easy task for seasoned runners, either. Kayla Montgomery knows that all too well.

Montgomery was a bonafide star in cross country and track and field at Mount Tabor High School in North Carolina. Her credentials are impressive. As a senior, she won the North Carolina Class 4A cross country championship. She also took home a championship in track and field in the 3200m. Additionally, the young runner finished the 2013 Foot Locker South regional 5K in 17:22, missing nationals by a few footsteps.

She’s also afflicted with multiple sclerosis.

Every race ends the same way. Montgomery collapses into her coach’s arms at the finish line, succumbing to numb legs and stressed nerves. The painful ritual is an inevitability that has remained constant since her diagnosis freshman year.

“Every day that I run, it might be my last day–I could easily wake up tomorrow and not be able to move,” Montgomery told CNN.

Yet, she still runs.

Montgomery’s diagnosis came after an accident playing soccer. It was a long, burdensome process that took her to a dark place. She was angry and closed off, refusing to discuss the issue.

“I tried to pretend I wasn’t sick or anything–I wanted to go on with life as normal as possible,” Montgomery told CNN.

Running saved her from the turmoil, though. She was determined to use her legs while she still could.

“I wasn’t amazing by any means, but I was eighth on the team, so if somebody got hurt then I was there! And I wanted to be there if they needed me, so I trained so hard all the time and that definitely helped to deal with the things I wouldn’t talk about,” she said.

Eventually, her determination would pay off.

Despite an impeccable record and being ranked a top college prospect, college coaches were hesitant to recruit a runner with MS. Montgomery’s medication keeps the degenerative nervous system disorder in check for the most part. And her performance didn’t suffer, but, still, it was a difficult sell to most college programs. Well, except for one.

Bill Taylor, of Lipscomb University in Nashville, decided to take a chance on her.

“Before Kayla’s official visit, I talked with my athletic training department and team doctors, to try to understand what we’d be looking at,” Taylor said to Runner’s World. “And what I learned is that symptoms are different in each person and they change, so there really wasn’t a clear sense of how things might go once she got here. But we felt very comfortable with her character and personality and fit with our program and school. And later I also talked with her high school coach [Patrick Cromwell] to learn what we could do to prepare and if she’d need any modifications to workouts.”

Montgomery immediately bonded with her new teammates at Lipscomb, who admired her perseverance. She admitted, though, that it was a tough adjustment moving from the high school to a D1 college program. The learning curve was steep, but Montgomery managed to run as No. 6 or 7 on the team for most of the season.

“There’s just been a lot of changes and I had to get used to the higher level of competition. And the team knows we can do better. I guess we’re tired of taking small steps and hopefully next season we’ll take a few big strides, to get where we want to go,” She told Runner’s World.

Lipscomb won its fourth straight Atlantic Sun Conference title and just missed a nationals bid–due in no small part to Montgomery’s contribution as a freshman. She said she’s been heartened by Taylor and the rest of the of the team and will continue to push herself.

It’s uncertain how much longer Montgomery will be able to compete. For now, she’s making the most out of running.

“I keep running because it makes me happy,” Montgomery said. “It makes me feel whole and safe, just because I know as long as I am running and still moving, I am still OK.”

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