Sunday, March 21, 1999
By JOHN SEVERANCE, Assistant Sports Editor
In 1987, Tony Kammerer made a promise to himself.
Laying in a Minnesota hospital, Kammerer had lost his eyesight as a result of multiple sclerosis that was diagnosed just two years earlier. He had always been interested in running and he wanted to run in a marathon.
"I got my eyesight back in a week and finally in 1992, it was time for me to live up to my commitment," said Kammerer, who lives in Naples with his wife, Billie Jean.
Kammerer ran the Grandma's Marathon in 1992 in Duluth, Minn. He was a man on a mission from 1992 to 1996, running in 18 marathons.
MS is a progressive disease that can go into remission at any time. In 1996, Kammerer, 53, and his wife moved to Naples and the disease returned.
"I don't run anymore. My whole left side is very numb," Kammerer said. "I drag my left foot sometimes and sometimes I slip and fall down. There was a time I could walk 10 miles, now I am lucky to go just a mile. I get so tired and fall apart."
MS, however, does not dampen Kammerer's love for the sport of running or his enthusiasm.
This year, he was elected as president of the Gulf Coast Runners, that help put on 14 races per year including the Naples Daily News Half Marathon.
Kammerer is always willing to help runners whether it be in training or providing moral support.
On Saturday, he and his wife provided a roving waterstop for some friends of theirs that were in training.
"I feel that the running club is a major part of my life," Kammerer said. "I can't run marathons anymore, but I like being around it and I like to do whatever I can to help. It is a very integral part of my life."
Today is a special one for Kammerer and others afflicted with MS. Beginning at 9 this morning, the 10th annual MS Walk will take place at Lowdermilk Park.
His wife and friends started a group called "Team Tony" that raises money for the foundation and as of Saturday, they have come up with $3,000.
The South Florida chairpersons for the MS Society are Tom Reiger and Wendy Caudill, and the National MS Society representative is Monica Whiting.
Kammerer will serve as grand marshal for today's walk.
"Those people do a fantastic job. ... There are a lot of people out there with MS," Kammerer said. "This is a chance to help those who have the disease and come up with some kind of cure somewhere down the line."
According to the Multiple Sclerosis Society Web site, MS is an illness diagnosed in more than 350,000 persons in the United States. It usually affects people between the ages of 30 and 50.
The cause of the disease is still not known and there is yet a cure. But they are working on it. What is known about MS is that it is signified by more than one (multiple) area of inflammation and scarring of the myelin in the brain and spinal cord.
Myelin is the tissue that covers and protects the nerve fibers. When this occurs, nerve "communication" is disrupted. Thus, a person with MS experiences varying degrees of neurological impairment depending on the location and extent of the scarring.
It is also believed that a virus may provoke the illness, but researchers still question this idea. Genes and an imbalance in the immune system may also influence an individual to the illness.
While working in Minnesota in 1985, Kammerer started feeling numbness on the left side of his body. He thought it was a pinched nerve, but he went to the doctors to find out.
"I had a bunch of tests taken including a spinal tap," Kammerer said. "A couple days later, it was kind of a strange thing. Five of us owned a construction firm and they called and they told me we think you have MS.
"I was devastated. I sat back and sat there numb. I decided to go home because I wasn't doing anybody any good at work. My wife and I went on a trip and I told her I thought I had MS."
Kammerer has now lived with the disease for 14 years. It is not contagious and it is not fatal, but it can sap the quality of life. Kammerer does the best he can to cope. And the running community is like family to him.
When asked to give advice to someone who might be afflicted with the disease, he said, "Just accept it and don't give up. Hope for cure, because as of today, there is none. There is a tomorrow and sometimes days can be really, really tough.
"You have to grit your teeth and go on. At least, I can wake up and see the sunshine, go for a swim. Not everybody can do that."
For the last year, he meets with Doug Schumann, another member of the Gulf Coast Runners, and they swim in the Gulf of Mexico from Seventh Avenue South to the pier and back. They meet every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 7 a.m. for the swim.
"Sometimes we have 15 people with us like people training for a triathlon or something," Kammerer said. "It helps fill the void of not running. It is a very good substitute."
Sign-ups for today's walk begin at 8 a.m. For a $75 contribuation, participants
receive a T-shirt, for $100 it's a T-shirt and medal and for $500, participants
receive a T-shirt, medal and baseball cap. Breakfast and lunch will be
provided for all participants.