When Winston-Salem (N.C.) Mount Tabor High's Kayla Montgomery was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at age 14, she set out to become North Carolina's fastest prep distance runner, because she knew one day she may not even be able to walk. Four years later, she has accomplished that feat.
Montgomery's battle against M.S. to become the state's Gatorade Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year and 3,200-meter indoor track champion was the subject of a wonderful New York Times feature.
While skeptics contend the incurable disease actually allows Montgomery to achieve paces unmatched by many harriers, because it prevents her legs from sending nerve signals to her brain -- and others even unknowingly called her a wimp -- Mount Tabor coach Patrick Cromwell sets the record straight.
“I think there’s a benefit to numbness," Cromwell told The New York Times of his Lipscomb University signee. "I don’t know anyone in their right mind, though, who would trade this; who would say, 'Give me M.S. so I have a little bit of numbness after Mile 2.' But I think that’s when she gets her strength."
Montgomery can continue running even when she loses all feeling in her legs, but any deviation from her path to the finish line causes her to collapse. In fact, she falls at the conclusion of each race into the awaiting arms of her coach, and her parents expediently ice her legs to restore the feeling. She can be seen writhing in pain following a race captured on video by WXII-TV for an Athlete of the Week feature.
"When I finish, it feels like there's nothing underneath me," Montgomery, who is scheduled to run the 5K in the national indoor track championships next week, told The New York Times. "I start out feeling normal and then my legs gradually go numb. I've trained myself to think about other things while I race, to get through. But when I break the motion, I can't control them and I fall."
Doctors reportedly question whether her rigorous routine is beneficial or harmful, but that doesn't stop Montgomery from competing. Some people say they run every race as if it were their last. She means it.