About a decade ago, Dana Moffitt had lost most of her ability to walk. Multiple Sclerosis, a degenerative disease of the nervous system, had left her body so weak and unstable that she rarely left her house and often had to crawl between rooms.
But today she’s not only walking, she’s moving with balance and control that doctors warned were probably gone for good.
It all started in her early 30s, when she had two young children at home, that she started noticing she was losing control of her body. Dana had always been athletic, but at a particularly bad point in the five years it took for her to get a diagnosis, she couldn’t even stand for two minutes for the national anthem.
And she didn’t know why.
At her lowest point, she told us, “I had experienced a physical decline to the point where I was spending most of my time in my own home crawling. I couldn’t really walk.”
When she finally got her diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis (MS) in 2006, “I was devastated,” Dana recalled.
But despite the doctors telling her that her disease was a one-way path to further disability, Dana decided to try to rebuild strength and control in her body. And using our Vitamin movement program–along with the support of friends and family–Dana proved that no physical challenge can keep you from making progress toward your goals.
This isn’t a story about mastering impressive feats or achieving high-level performance. No, for Dana, even the level of day-to-day physical ability that most people take for granted would be a dream come true.
After going through our Vitamin movement course, “day-to-day functioning became almost normal” for Dana. Here’s her story.
“Long story short, I have Multiple Sclerosis.”
Multiple Sclerosis (henceforth referred to as MS) is a progressively debilitating disease “where the insulation cord of your nerves are being eaten away by your own immune system,” Dana described. Everyone experiences MS differently (since the nerves are involved in most aspects of our physical function).
For Dana, though, she knew something was wrong when weakness and limitations started setting in.
As the daughter of a high school athletics coach, “I swam as a child, I ran track as a child, I played basketball, I danced. I was always active,” Dana told us. So, when she stopped being able to do the activities she loved, she knew there was something terribly wrong.
After seeing doctor after doctor and getting test after test, Dana finally got her diagnosis in 2006, five years after her symptoms began.
With two little kids at home (at the time of her diagnosis, her son was 8 and her daughter was 6), she really didn’t know how she would manage it all. She told us, “It was a devastating moment and I just buckled up for the worst and then started trying to dig my way out.”
Living with MS has been a constant challenge for Dana. Because her nervous system is damaged, her “motions become jerky and uncontrolled” and she has a hard time building strength.
Everyday, Dana structures her day around her condition. For instance, she said, “I prepare breakfast for the kids and myself because I’m stronger in the morning.” The rest of the day is much more uncertain and she has to choose when to use her limited strength wisely.
“I decided that I wanted to be the little kid.”
Before even getting her diagnosis and understanding what was going on in her body, Dana had an eye-opening experience that helped her decide that she was not going to let this destroy her.
“One time I was in a gym and I saw an older gentleman with an oxygen tank heading to a treadmill. I walked over and there was a window into the kids care [where] my children were, and there was a one-year-old in there with them just learning to walk. This one-year-old got up and fell and got up and fell. I kind of sat down and said which one of those do I want to be? The one-year-old that’s going to try and try and try, or the other one that’s just going to make due because time shall pass and this shall end.
I decided that I wanted to be the little kid. That’s what I am. A grown-up little kid.”
And thus began Dana’s journey to building herself back up and reclaiming her body.
Her kids were her motivators and, in many ways, they helped her get to where she is now. Dana said her daughter, who was six when she was diagnosed, “literally taught me how to stand up again and how to walk and catch a ball.”
For Dana, relearning how to do the little things was huge. She was determined to get stronger and regain function.
The Beginning of a Long Journey
She started by using a TENS unit to begin turning her muscles on and, as she said, “help me stand up a little longer, help me take one extra step, just help me.”
Eventually, Dana hired a personal trainer. At first, she “couldn’t even lift a gallon of milk,” so it was just a gradual process. But she worked up the strength to be able to start incorporating some TRX training, which helped Dana build a fair amount of strength, although not the “independent motor control” she felt she really needed.
“The next step became obvious,” Dana told us. “I’m going to go with GMB. They can get me off my leash.”
“Vitamin is helping restore a neurological connection in the body.”
Dana had been following GMB for about a year when she finally decided to take the leap and go through Vitamin, our program for improving movement and motor control. She said the emphasis on control and range of motion were what attracted her to Vitamin in the first place.
General tightness and lack of coordination is “part of the territory” with MS, so a course that addressed these concerns seemed like Dana’s best bet.
“I need to just stop throwing myself around and get control. I realized that GMB can help me do just that, that they are what I’m looking for to gain the control and poise and grace that I need.”
We tell everyone who goes through our programs and tutorials to work at their own level and make adjustments as needed, but it can be a tough thing to take to heart.
Of course, Dana faced certain challenges most people don’t go through, but she knows her limitations and wasn’t afraid to regress things as much as necessary. She said, “there were movements where even the regressed introductory level was above my skillset and above my balance,” but she didn’t let that stop her.
She’d just make the adjustments she needed to in order to do the movements at hand.
For instance, Dana had a lot of fear of falling initially, so she’d hold on to her kitchen counter or a chair to make sure that fear wasn’t going to hold her back.
A vital part of her experience going through Vitamin was she felt like it was okay to make the program suit her goals instead of adapting herself to fit the program. “I’ve had to regress a few things back even further,” she said, “but it seemed like it would be acceptable with the GMB family.”
Dana’s Results and Progress
Through making modifications to suit her own needs, Dana has been able to start moving in a way she never thought possible. See for yourself:
Dana told us that during Vitamin, she was able to place her foot behind her, taking a step backwards, for the first time since her symptoms had begun. That may sound like nothing to most of us, but for Dana, to be able to just step back without even thinking about it was huge. She couldn’t even believe it: “I was like, ‘Wait. Did that just happen? Did I seriously just do that?'”
She also found she was able to reach down for something and balance on one foot, which she hadn’t been able to do without falling before.
“I [now] have enough control that I’m not afraid to reach for it. It made me realize that yeah, I’ve been training for a decade but I’m nowhere near what I can continue to learn in another decade working with GMB. I can be that much more free and that much less restricted in my movements. I’m excited.”
With Vitamin, Dana noted that, for about 15 minutes following her daily practice, she could “walk better… as everything was loose.”
15 minutes may not sound like a lot to many people, but for Dana that meant 15 minutes of freedom. To go from not being able to stand for the national anthem for two minutes, to being able to walk around for 15 minutes, that was something Dana could never have imagined a few years prior.
And that opened her eyes to what was possible.
How GMB Builds Motor Control Systematically
Since Dana’s primary concern was developing her motor control, she chose our Vitamin course to work with. As opposed to most fitness programs that focus on strength and endurance, Vitamin helps you practice and refine movement patterns that build coordination and agility.
For Dana, the daily practice and novel movement patterns gave her a consistent challenge, and the emphasis on mindful practice helped her to stay focused in the moment and reconnect her perception with her neural signaling and movement. The purpose of the course isn’t to necessarily master any specific skills, but rather to build a habit of movement and awareness that translates into better control.
When the body experiences new and different positions, the brain creates new neural pathways so that you learn to get into those positions more easily next time. Do this every day with new movements and your full attention, and you can bank on rapid improvement.
Special Considerations for Training With Multiple Sclerosis
We are not physicians, so if you have MS or a similar neurological disorder, be sure to check with your doctor before trying any new exercises or routines.
That said, here are some suggestions for those training with MS:
- Make sure to down-regulate the nervous system before and after your workout (this can be done through deep breathing or any other calming activity).
- Use isometric exercises during your warm-up to build awareness of where you’re at that day.
- Incorporate joint mobility and strengthening exercises in the actual workout.
- Monitor for fatigue and stop if too much fatigue sets in.
- Keep the temperature of the room low and monitor for overheating.
These recommendations come from one of our GMB Trainers, Jenn Pilotti, who has experience working with clients with MS.
“You can do so much better than you think you can.”
Dana wasn’t nervous about starting a new way of training her body–“I understand that I need to adhere to a program, stay its course, and stick to it. The consequences are too significant if I don’t.”–but she never expected to be able to do what she proved to herself she could.
“Physically just being able to do things like take a step backwards or sideways or momentarily stand on one foot has just been kind of liberating. Now I have enough balance that I’m not necessarily staying really close to the wall. I’m hoping that in time I’ll get enough balance and coordination that walking in a group of people will not be as awful as it currently is. Currently right now I tell people to walk in front of me just because I get afraid of feet or being tripped or things like that. I’m hoping that I’ll get more independence and freedom.”
Managing MS will be a lifelong process and challenge for Dana, but just knowing she has the capability to work around her limitations and still make progress has helped her continue to improve. In fact, after working through Vitamin, Dana went on to go through our Elements, and Mobility programs as well.
When we spoke to Dana, we asked her what she might tell someone who doesn’t have MS (i.e. most of our readers). Here’s what she said:
“You can do so much better than you think you can. Literally, I am trusting GMB with so much more than you realize. No matter what kind of athlete you are, you can trust them that they’re going to guide you through this and they’re not going to push you in a way that gets you hurt. This program [Vitamin] should be followed and adhered to… GMB will help anybody do anything better.”
We all have different limitations and abilities. No matter what yours are, you can learn to move your body with control and freedom. And Vitamin will help you do so.
Overcome the Barriers in Your Movement
No matter where you’re starting from, Vitamin will help you regain confidence in your body and learn to move the way you want to.
The story’s just begun for Dana. You can follow her incredible journey on Twitter.