More MS news articles for Dec 2001

Short-Track Skater Fighting MS for Shot at the Gold

Thursday, December 13, 2001 

When Adam Riedy was in Utah two months ago, he appeared poised to qualify for the U.S. Olympic short-track speedskating team and turn himself into one of the most heart-warming stories of the 2002 Winter Games.
But dark clouds have gathered again.
With the Olympic Trials at hand during the next two weekends at the Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns, Riedy is uncertain whether he even will get a shot at his dream. The Ohio native is fighting a relapse of the multiple sclerosis that first afflicted him last winter and kept him from qualifying for the world championships. Now, after working tirelessly to regain his form, he might not be able to skate this weekend, either.
"We're going to see what happens," team leader Jack Mortell said. "We still have a couple of days."
Riedy was among the most promising young short-track skaters in the United States a year ago, finishing second behind Olympic gold-medal favorite Apolo Anton Ohno at the junior nationals the year before. He was skating as well as he ever had early in the season. He made the U.S. team that traveled the World Cup circuit and won three medals -- one individual bronze and a silver and a bronze in the relay -- in his first two World Cup events in Asia.
"I was feeling good," he said.
He felt tired through the junior national and junior world championship meets, but chalked it up to all the travel.
But a few days after the World Junior Championships in Poland, "I woke up, and from my knee down, on the right side, was numb," Riedy said. "It felt like it was asleep. I could move it and had all control over it. But to the touch, I couldn't feel it."
Riedy ignored it, figuring it was just something a world-class athlete had to fight through.
Within days, the numbness progressed past his hip and encompassed the entire right side of his body.
Alarmed, he saw a doctor and spent about 10 days in the hospital in January enduring multiple exams, from endless blood work to a torturous spinal tap.
Finally, Riedy got the diagnosis: multiple sclerosis, a progressive and incurable neurological disease that afflicts about one in every 1,000 people.
Riedy wasn't really frightened, he said, because he did not know much about the disease and the numbness had subsided. But he began to learn more about the illness, about how the formation of scars on the covering of nerve cells can lead to a wide variety of symptoms that include paralysis, vision loss, imbalance, memory loss and slurred speech. Episodes of multiple sclerosis can gradually worsen while the itinerant periods of normalcy decrease.
"It kind of freaked me out when I started to read more into it and then think about friends I know who have it, watching them just deteriorate," he said. "I started to think about little things like playing softball with my kids and [how] I won't be able to throw the ball."
Doctors told Riedy they could not be sure how severe the disease was, that it could come and go or come and stay or never come back at all. Obviously hoping for the latter, Riedy began daily injections of a drug meant to help control the disorder. And he tried to return to skating.
He managed it in February, but suffered a concussion the day before the trials for the national and world championships. Riedy called it a season and decided to focus on this year and the Olympics. Reaching the Games was undoubtedly made harder once he missed qualifying for the world championship team, which represents the United States in the early World Cup events the following season.
Riedy had to work extra hard to earn a spot among those who competed at the Olympic qualifier at the Delta Center in October. There, Riedy skated in the finals of the 5,000-meter relay team, which later earned a silver medal. That boosted his hopes of winning "at least a relay gold" at the 2002 Games.
"We have definitely the strongest relay team right now, anywhere," he said then. "As long as we hit our exchanges and we just skate to our best, we should be able to win."
But that was two months ago.
About five weeks after that, Mortell said, Riedy suffered a relapse, but "seemed to recover." In the last week, however, another relapse has left Riedy's foot entirely numb. He's hoping it eases at least enough to allow him to compete this weekend.
Riedy must finish among the top six men to earn a spot on the Olympic team, and this might be his only chance to do that. With the Trials on consecutive weekends, Riedy has two chances to perform. That is presuming, of course, that he can skate at all, a prospect that does not look all that promising at the moment.
"It's just really a dirty shame," Mortell said.
© Copyright 2001, The Salt Lake Tribune