More MS news articles for Oct 2001

Disease doesn't slow Appleton runner down

Man with MS running marathon Sunday

Sat 29-Sept-2001
By Mike Woods
Post-Crescent staff writer

John Ebel is trying to stay one step ahead. That's why he runs.

Just over his shoulder is a terrifying disease known as multiple sclerosis. It has ahold of him, though its grip is not strong. At least not yet, and, perhaps ...

"As far as exercising, it helps delay it," said Ebel. "Be-yond that, I'm really not sure. I don't think my doctor really knows for sure."

It was February 1999 when the 49-year-old Appleton man had his world turned upside down. Things just weren't right. His balance was off. His memory became flawed. He occasionally talked in a dyslexic fashion. Simple computations he'd do in his head suddenly had to be done repeatedly.

"After I first heard it, I thought there'd be no hope," Ebel said. "I didn't know what to expect. I thought I might end up in a wheelchair."

Multiple sclerosis is a chronic, often disabling disease of the central nervous system. Symptoms may be mild, such as numbness in the limbs, or severe, such as paralysis or loss of vision.

According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, it's difficult to predict the course of MS because it varies greatly based on the individual. But it generally follows one of four courses, from where an individual can partially or totally recover from flares to a progressive course that involves acute attacks.

But exercise helps. The NMSS says it can assist in managing many aspects of the disease. And that's why John Ebel runs. He's trying to stay one step ahead.

On Sunday, Ebel will be partaking in his 11th consecutive Fox Cities Marathon. He is one of a select few to have run in every Fox Cities race.

"I'm amazed that every Sunday morning when a whole group of us goes on a long run, John is out there every week, right there with us," said Mike Jovanovich, a friend and running partner of Ebel. "I think he's doing the things he likes to do and he hasn't let that stop him."

Running hasn't always played such an important role in Ebel's life, but somehow he sensed long ago it would.

"One of the reasons I started running was because of my dad and his health," Ebel said. "My dad had heart problems, and I was looking for a way to improve my chances."

It was an on-again, off-again relationship for many years. The wrong equipment and injuries sidelined him for extended periods. But for some reason, he always kept coming back. Then in 1982, with the help of the proper running shoes, he just took off.

It wasn't long after that the idea of running a marathon popped into his head. He had no idea how to go about it, so he went simply on feel and the information gleaned from a talk given by former Pacesetters running club president Andy Jones, who had completed the 26.2-mile test.

His first was the Lakefront Marathon in Milwaukee, and he finished in 3? hours.

"The last couple of miles I was trying to figure out why was I doing this," Ebel said. "I figured I was not going to do this again. But then a week later, it was 'Wow, when can I do another one?'"

Sunday, it will be No. 17, and counting.

"My neurologist told me to keep exercising, keep running, but not to work out to exhaustion," Ebel said. "Unfortunately, that's what a marathon is.

"When I talked to her about running the Fox Cities, she said, 'OK, you can do that. How long is a marathon, 10 miles?' I went, 'Yeah, that's about right.' But my wife was like, 'No, no, it's 26.2 miles.' But then she said, yes, it was OK, go ahead."

Ebel notices the changes in his body. And he knows it's more than advancing age.

"Yeah, I get tired more easily," he said. "I've noticed that my coordination isn't quite what it used to be when I play basketball or bowl. My hand-eye coordination is not the same.

"I never did run really well in the heat, but the heat affects me even more, so I try to run earlier in the morning."

But the bottom line is he's still running. He may have slowed some, but he keeps moving forward.

"I think if he felt he had to give up running, that physically he would tend to cater more to the disease, fall into a trap," said Norb Lauer, a close friend and fellow runner.

"He'll hang on to running as long as he can. It's kind of like a little mental battle. He knows he has MS but he knows he can run and he's doing something others can't even though he has MS. I don't think he'll ever give up running. He'd have to have both his legs broken."

Ebel acknowledges running has proven not only to be a tonic physically, but emotionally.

"My running helped bring me through," he said. "It got me through a little bit of the depression, it gave me hope that I could still do this."

While the future remains uncertain, after living with MS for nearly three years, he is confident it's much brighter than he originally believed.

"It's been great," Ebel said, "I've pretty much been able to do what I did before."

So he will continue to run, in hopes he can continue to stay one step ahead.

Mike Woods can be reached at 920-993-1000, ext. 232, or by e-mail at

© Copyright 2001 The Post-Crescent