All About Multiple Sclerosis

More MS news articles for February 2003

Cyclist rebuilds life after crashing with MS

Feb 8, 2003
King County Journal

She was at the peak of her career -- and on course to compete in the 1992 Olympics.

Then life as Maureen Manley knew it changed abruptly, careening off the course she'd laid out for her career the same way she careened off a mountain road in France.

It happened in 1991.

Manley, then a world class cyclist, was reaping the rewards for years of hard work.

As a member of the U.S. Women's Cycling Team, she'd won two national championships, set a national record, and won a silver medal in the 1990 World Championships.

"In 1991, I was at the peak, peak, peak of my cycling. I won a gold, silver and bronze at the National Championships. I was living my dream. Everything was clicking,'' she said.

Then came the World Championships in Germany in August.

Her performance was subpar. Worse yet, her vision was blurring.

"I thought I needed glasses,'' Manley said. "I also thought I was having a poorly timed slump.''

After Germany, the U.S. team went on to the women's Tour de France.

Manley found herself battling unusual exhaustion.

"During one of the first stages, we were climbing a mountain,'' she said. "My vision was blurring. The harder I pushed, the more my vision blurred. We reached the top of the climb. My vision blurred so much I rode my bike off the road and crashed severely.''

Something, she knew, was terribly wrong.

Manley flew home to Colorado to meet with doctors. The diagnosis? Multiple sclerosis, an answer that explained the fatigue, balance problems and vision problems she'd been experiencing.

And for Manley -- at that moment -- it seemed the end of a dream.

"Devastation is not a big enough word to describe what I felt,'' she says. "I'd worked since I was a child. I ate and breathed cycling. I'd worked so hard to get where I was. I was at my peak -- and it was being stripped away.''

She stopped racing, unwilling to risk the safety of others.

For a year, she says, "I was so lost and so sad.''

At one point, she lost her vision and had to use a cane to walk.

"I hit rock bottom,'' she says. "At that point, I made the most powerful decision of my life -- to live, that I wasn't going to get my old life back. But it was my life and I needed to recreate it from where I was, wobbly legs and blurred vision and all.''

These days, Manley is a motivational speaker and registered counselor who runs her own business, Spirit In Motion.

"I call it life coaching,'' she says. "It's about human potential. I work off the belief that anyone has the answer within them.''

It's about learning the strategies and skills to learn your own truths and "the rhythm of your own spirit,'' she says.

That's what she did.

Manley, who lives in Kirkland, is now back on a bike -- and racing, though not at the level she once did.

That doesn't matter.

"My intention is to race at the local and regional level for the 35 and older state championships,'' she says. "When I'm on the bicycle I know I'm dancing with my condition. It's not like it went away. It -- my ability to do this -- can be taken away tomorrow. I know I'm going to have bad days.''

Dealing with MS, she says, is really a metaphor for life.

"It's about going after it -- and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't work,'' she says. "That's what this 11 year journey has taught me.''

© 2003 Horvitz Newspapers, Inc.