More MS news articles for Feb 2002

Job Helps ND Coach Manage Chronic Illness

Feb 05, 2002

PEORIA - Cindy Clark remembers the day, date and time she learned she had multiple sclerosis.

"May 23, 1988, 3:18 p.m.," she said, without having to even think about it. "It'll be 14 years."

Clark coaches varsity volleyball and girls basketball at Notre Dame High School and has done both longer than she has had MS. Yet many people outside the high school athletic community and her school are unaware of her condition.

"It's not something I've tried to make an issue," said Clark. "As I get older and the longer I've had it, the more comfortable I am with people knowing. It's not a deterrent to what I do, it's just another part of me. It illustrates what I'm all about."

Multiple sclerosis is a disease that attacks the protective covering of the nerves in the brain and the spinal cord. Symptoms can include muscle weakness, blurred vision and slurred speech. The symptoms can vary widely in severity and can come and go.

Although there is no cure, there are a variety of treatments, including corticosteriods, which can alleviate some of the symptoms during a flareup. However, some people who have the disease eventually become disabled.

"Every year I find a greater sense of urgency," said Clark, "but as long as I can (coach) and as long as I enjoy it, I'll do it."

Clark started coaching volleyball in 1983 and basketball in 1985, both at Academy of Our Lady/Spalding Institute. When that school merged with Bergan to form Notre Dame, Clark went there.

She reached the 300-victory milestone in basketball last week against Manual. In volleyball, she's four victories away from 400 for her career.

Coaching two varsity sports would wear out even the healthiest individual. Yet Clark believes coaching helps her keep a better handle on her disease.

"There are good stresses and bad stresses," she said. "Coaching is a good stress for me. It gives me a reason to get up some days when I'm kind of dragging."

Clark most often has problems with pain in her legs, which sometimes manifests itself into a slight limp.

"It comes and goes," she said. "Most people will say, 'What'd you do, hurt your ankle?' and I'll say yeah.

"To look at me, you'd think I was normal and I find great satisfaction in people thinking I'm normal, because," she said with a laugh, "I'm the least normal person I know."

Sometimes Clark's life isn't quite so funny.

Twice in the course of her illness she has had to be hospitalized for intravenous prednisone treatments to quell flareups. The last time was during the Christmas season a year ago, just before her team started holiday-tournament competition.

Her players didn't know about that incident, but they do know of Clark's illness.

"We do talk about it," she said, "and it's become common knowledge, I think. But they do know better than to complain to me about their minor aches and pains."

Clark has found that working at Notre Dame, especially, has helped keep her illness in perspective.

"It's very helpful in that regard," she said. "At Notre Dame, we're always praying for some child who has a serious illness. I thank God I didn't get this until I was 28, that I got to go through high school sports and finish my playing career."

And she plans to make the most of the present, whatever the future holds.

"It's in God's hands, it's truly in His hands," she said, "and my faith in God says when it's time to stop, he'll let me know."
(C) 2002 Peoria Journal Star