To say that Christina Liekhus has a personal stake in this year’s MS Run the US would be an understatement.
A wife and mother of two, Liekhus, 37, of North Bend was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2010. A casual 5k runner at the time, the full-time bank vice president and former fast pitch softball pitcher has pushed herself to become a full-fledged marathon runner, completing three, 26.2-mile courses in Lincoln (two) and Boston, Massachusetts.
A goal-oriented person who has come from scarcely being able to walk at the outset of her diagnosis, she now hopes to take on the other five major marathons — Los Angeles, London, New York, Tokyo and Berlin — as she attempts to stay one step ahead of the symptoms that continue to plague her despite treatments that have kept her condition largely manageable.
MS affects more than 2.2 million people around the world. The disabling disease attacks the central nervous system and can lead to numbness in the limbs, paralysis and loss of vision. The progress, severity and specific symptoms are unpredictable and vary from one person to another.
In Liekhus’ case, her initial back pain was so severe she had to learn how to walk again. After three years of rehabilitation, it was suggested to her that exercise may be her best option to re-establishing some sort of normalcy.
“My doctor had suggested exercise, and I’m a competitive person,” she said during a interview at Hastings Campground & RV Park Wednesday afternoon. “I have to have goals and I wanted to keep my body moving. I just keep pushing myself to my limits.”
The 161-mile race she is currently tackling is by far her most rigorous challenge to date. As if the 30 miles per day wasn’t enough, MS symptoms of burning feet and shoulder blades surfaced during her second day, causing her to slow her pace from the previous day. Double vision and numbness in her hands also have been obstacles to her running. But these are things she’s learning to deal with, byproducts of a disease she’ll be dealing with the rest of her life.
“I’m feeling pretty decent now after my ice bath,” Liekhus said. “I feel really empowered. I do have my MS symptoms while I run when it gets a little bit warmer like this, but it makes me think that I’m slowly getting my body to where I really want it to be. I’m just going to keep working at it.”
Liekhus said she decided to run on behalf of MS after getting inspired by a close friend who had done the MS bike ride on her behalf on two occasions. The run is quite an undertaking, one she pondered long and hard for more than two years before deciding to commit to it. The nation’s only 3,260-mile ultra relay run, the annual event features runners traversing the nation from Southern California to New York City in 19 segments, with each running approximately 160 miles with a minimum fundraising commitment of $10,000. Liekhus began her six-day journey from Holdrege to Lincoln on Tuesday and will complete the journey on Sunday. As of Wednesday, she had raised $8,740.73 of her $10,000 goal from 43 donors.
She has her good days and bad days, though these days the good days seem to be winning out more often than the difficult ones, she said. Her latest medication option, Ocrevus, is administered through a day-long infusion process that provides six months of relief of symptoms.
Her inspiration for running isn’t just about finding a cure for herself, Liekhus said, but for all who suffer from the debilitating disease. That she suffers from it herself only serves to push her even harder to complete her goal of finishing the race. Symptoms she had endured along the way serve as reminders of just how dire and urgent the cause is for all who battle MS on a daily basis.
“If I think that I might be relapsing, I still get upset about it,” she said. “It took me a long time to really come to terms with just dealing with it. The initial first three years were really hard.
“I’ve been meeting people who have MS struggles. When I have to let my friends down because I can’t make it to something because I don’t feel well, it affects everybody. I just want to raise money for advancements to help everybody who has it. Hopefully we can find a cure someday.”