Apr 08, 2002
Portland Press Herald Writer
WELLS -- Allayne Watson, diagnosed with multiple sclerosis three years ago, is getting ready to run her first Boston Marathon next week. So what is she most worried about? "The people," she said. "I mean, we live in Maine. I'm not used to a lot of people. I'm a lone runner."
Running the race has been a longtime dream for Watson. The threat posed by her disease convinced her to do it this year.
"I went to the neurologist and things weren't looking so hot down the road," Watson said. "I came home that night and I said to my husband, 'I'm running the Boston Marathon.' "
Multiple sclerosis is a chronic disease in which the immune system turns on the body, attacking the protective covering of nerve fibers in the brain and spinal cord. In its most severe form, a flare-up can cause paralysis.
Watson has been diagnosed with relapsing/remitting MS, one of the most common forms. Those who have it are usually able to recover body functions that are damaged by an attack, such as blurred vision or loss of balance.
Watson's primary symptom so far has been a constant numbness in her arms - "They feel just like you've slept on them all night," she said. She also has occasional bouts of extreme fatigue and blurred vision.
Luckily, she says, she has been able to continue running and has missed very few days of training. But her road-racing future is far from certain.
"MS is very unpredictable," said Steven Sookikian of the central New England chapter of the MS Society. "For any given person, they don't know on any given day when they're going to have an exacerbation."
People like Watson who are able to continue exercising are remarkable, he says, because becoming overheated usually is a problem for people with MS. As the body heats up, it can cause inflammation around body tissues, which can cause an attack.
Watson says the disease's unpredictable nature used to frighten her, but since her diagnosis she has learned to live with it.
"I used to worry about it every day," she said. "Now I take it one day at a time - that's the only way."
The possibility that she could lose the athleticism she has enjoyed her entire life is frightening, she says. But it also increases her determination to run while she can.
"I might not have it next year," she said. "If I'm in a (wheel)chair next year, at least I can say I did it."
Watson is also running to raise money for MS education and research. She and 49 other runners are part of a team, sponsored by the central New England chapter of the MS Society, called Marathon Strides Against MS.
The Boston Athletic Association gives the central New England chapter, located in Waltham, Mass., 50 spots in the race. The runners are exempt from the qualifying times, although Watson says she hopes to finish the race within 4 1/2 to 5 hours. Runners also must raise at least $2,500 to get a number.
When Watson first inquired about running, she was told no spots were left. She figured she would raise whatever money she could and run as a bandit. But in December, she got a call from the chapter saying it did have a spot for her.
Since then, Watson has raised $6,231. Amazingly enough, she says, she was able to raise the required $2,500 in just over a month. Almost all of the money she has raised has been from the people of Wells.
"The people of this town are unbelievable," she said. "They really pull together for one of their own." Many of her co-workers at Southern Maine Medical Center in Biddeford have also donated money for her run.
Watson also credits her family for supporting her efforts. In fact, her parents, Isabelle and Lewis Coleman of Sanford, and brother Christopher will be manning water stations along the marathon's route. Her husband and three children will be in the crowd to cheer her on.
"When I'm at the starting line, I'll be there with all these people behind me," she said.
Staff Writer Jen Fish can be contacted at 282-8229 or at:
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