Returning from a Midlife MS Diagnosis — On a Bike

August 7, 2017

By Sara Washington

Sacramento, California

Julie Williams, Age 55: In 2007, I had a headache that felt like an ice pick in my temple. And it was so painful, and I noticed that my vision had changed. They diagnosed me with probable Multiple Sclerosis, which has since been confirmed.

The first medication that I was on meant I gave myself an injection every single day. That had side effects. During the first few years after my diagnosis, I was just trying to manage the disease. It was really scary and with all of the challenges of raising my daughter, I wasn’t really thinking too much about riding a bike.

Multiple Sclerosis is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system. Julie bought a bicycle in 2015 and began commuting to work. She quickly found it improved her physical, mental, and emotional well-being.

Julie Williams: Largely I was inspired by my next-door neighbor, who had gone car-free. She had sold her car, and she went everywhere she needed to go on her bicycle. And it was so inspiring to see how she changed when she was riding every day​. Her body changed, her attitude changed, she was much easier to get along with as a neighbor, and she seemed happy. And I thought “Oh, I want that.”

I went and found a class I could take to learn more about urban cycling and how to feel comfortable. They taught us how to change a tire, and took us out on a ride, and showed us how to ride vehicularly, how to behave in traffic, and I felt so empowered from that knowledge.

Often people who have Multiple Sclerosis can’t tolerate heat very well, and I live in Sacramento, and we get really hot in the summer. And what I realized the first summer in 2015 when I was riding every single day, rain or shine, is that I felt my body acclimated to the heat better.

I’ve never had an MS flare from the heat since that time. Whereas, before I started riding my bike, there were times I wouldn’t even want to leave my house because of the heat outside.

Last year Julie participated in a fundraising ride for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, and plans to do the same next year.

Julie Williams: Physically, emotionally, mentally, even spiritually, there is something I remember from being a kid and first learning how to ride. It’s like that feeling of independence and freedom. I don’t have the body of an Olympian on the outside, but I know that I am healthier on the inside.

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