Michael Furey, New Jersey Mucker: My Story
Check out this incredible new post by Michael Furey.
“I grew up a typical kid on Long Island, consumed with family, sports and friends. From an early age, I struggled in school and to cope with that I poured all my efforts into basketball. It became my one true love, an escape, a passion, and what my world operated around. It helped me succeed through high school, giving me the confidence to succeed in the class room. I was lucky enough to play basketball in college and experience so many things. By the time my college career ended, I had successes and disappointments, all of which prepared me for my journey ahead.
Shortly after graduating college, I found myself in a post 9/11 world. I decided then that security intelligence and law enforcement would be my career path. I worked through a post-graduate degree and applied for jobs with all the “3 letter” Government Agency jobs.
In 2004, I landed a great job with the Department of Defense that required me to relocate to the Baltimore/Washington, DC area to start my training. I also married my girlfriend Jennifer, and we were both excited to start our new lives together. During this time, I continued to lean on basketball as my stress relief; it was always my favorite social setting and my best competitive outlet. I played in local leagues and pick-up games. It always reconfirmed how much I loved to play the game. As cliché as it sounds, the basketball court was the only place where I thought about nothing and was completely present and happy.
In August 2005, a little less than a year into my new career, I woke up one morning and my feet felt numb. I thought maybe I had tweaked my back since the training program for my job was rigorous and exhausting. I shrugged it off and assumed the numbness would go away. For the next month, I essentially ignored it and I continued to work hard, but the numbness never subsided. It quickly moved from my feet, making its way up my legs and eventually throughout my entire body. My wife and I had lived in Maryland for such a short period of time that we hadn’t established a network of doctors yet. Randomly finding a doctor out of the phone book, we made an appointment to find out exactly what was going on.
“A pinched nerve is likely,” said the random doctor, “but what do you know about multiple sclerosis?”
That one simple statement started the never ending testing that led to MRIs, vision tests, spinal taps, blood patches and endless amounts of blood work. Not only was my body physically numb, but I became mentally numb during the process. Finally, after all the tests had been taken and after all the blood had been drawn, I couldn’t ignore what the doctors were about to confirm. It was multiple sclerosis.
What was MS? How did I get it? Will it go away? Can I live with it? Can I deal with it? Were the days of being an athlete over? These questions ran through my head nonstop. After I was diagnosed, my wife and I decided to leave Maryland and my new job, return to the New York/New Jersey area to be closer to family and find the answers to all of my questions.
Moving back up North proved to be the right decision for us. We established a family support system we didn’t have in Maryland and found doctors who helped us understand what MS is and how to live with it. We even expanded our family in 2007 with the birth of our first daughter Raelyn, and then again when Nina, our second daughter, was born in 2011.
Thankfully, I recovered from that first episode in 2005. The numbness went away the same way it came in, starting at my feet, improving up my body and, finally, through my arms and hands. But after that first episode my hands felt different; my sense of touch was changed. Perhaps it’s psychological, but playing basketball never felt the same. As a result, I went into a shell and put up walls because I didn’t know how to deal with my diagnoses. I was scared of the uncertain future and my normal way of dealing with it, just shooting hoops for hours to clear my mind, didn’t feel right anymore.
I didn’t know how to express myself as a person with MS, and I had no outlet for almost five years. Then in 2010, a co-worker asked me to join her team to run a Tough Mudder race. After that race I felt challenged, determined and accomplished. Without realizing it, I had let MS take that away from me. I quickly realized mud races were something I could use as an outlet to replace basketball. But I still needed to come to terms with MS. I could run as many races as I wanted, but I didn’t identify with my disease. I pretended it wasn’t a part of my life and just dealt with my symptoms as they came – until one day in 2012, when my wife came home and told me about the MS mud obstacle run coming that summer.
I jumped in with both feet…fundraising and building a team. In the last three years, I have participated in MuckFest MS in Denver, Philadelphia and Jacksonville. I focus my efforts on my home state at MuckFest® MS New Jersey with Team Filth & Furey, raising more than $28,000 and having a blast!
Fundraising and reaching out to my family, friends and the community for support has given me a voice and a reason to confront MS head on. It has given me the ability to identify with my disease and break through the mental barriers I allowed MS to build.
Like everyone fighting this disease, my future is uncertain, but participating in MuckFest MS has allowed me to take control of the present. I always loved basketball, but it never defined me as a person. It was my vehicle to live and learn but now I have a new vehicle to educate and raise awareness about a disease that I once thought would own me, when in fact, thanks to MuckFest MS, I now own it.”