Why I Muck: Philadelphia Mucker, Zoe Markwalter
A multiple sclerosis diagnosis is not something to be taken lightly, and Philadelphia Mucker, Zoe M., knows that firsthand. Since her own MS diagnosis 2015, she has made many changes to her lifestyle and daily outlook. While she had to quit her secure job the year after her diagnosis and had “conversations with the insurance company that left me hyperventilating on the floor of my kitchen,” she has maintained an active social life, met and worked with an “awesome neurologist,” and more. Zoe has not let her diagnosis define her. She has made it a part of her life and fully integrated herself into the MS community.
That community includes the MuckFest family as well! Though Zoe was actually running MuckFest with her friend Cheryl even before she was diagnosed, it wasn’t until that fateful summer of 2015 that she founded her own team, Slow Mudder Truckers.
“We ran in the same week that I had my diagnosing MRI. There were five of us on that team including Cheryl, her husband Mark, my compadre, Stacey-Jo, and my husband John. John and Stacey-Jo knew already. They’d been with me on the diagnosing journey in the months prior. I told Cheryl on the run.”
Since that 2015 MuckFest when she began to tell her family and friends, Zoe has seen her support system — and team size — grow exponentially.
“Each year as we grow, I feel more supported as a human, and I feel aware of my community of people living with MS either directly or through someone they love.”
In 2019, her team had grown to 16 muddy Muckers! These are “friends who simply shine their love on me” and support every member of the Slow Mudder Truckers until they cross that MuckFest finish line. Zoe is not letting MS stop her and works to educate and empower people both in and outside of the MS community year-round. She’s also quite the MuckFest expert by now! We talked to her more about why she Mucks, how she prepares as a team captain, and what she wants the world to know about MS…
Tell us about your preparation plan for MuckFest…
Early spring: ARMS, ARMS, ARMS!!! As far as being captain goes, I check in a few times leading up to the event.
The night before, my husband and I host a t-shirt making dinner party. This is where we build camaraderie and all the new members get to ask questions of those who are more seasoned. Since the team keeps expanding, this year I tried a circle practice where everyone introduced themselves by name and pronoun and then talked about what brought them to the team.
What is it like to cross the finish line?
My team commits to waiting for each other at the start of each obstacle and before crossing the finish line. We do it together. Every time we cross, I am grateful that I am still fully physically, cognitively, and emotionally able. I feel grateful and loving for the people who have participated in studies; for those before me and next to me who struggle; the doctors who care for us; and for the allies who fight for justice in healthcare.
You also have two solid team rules…
- Nobody gets left behind.
- Don’t do it if it doesn’t feel right.
This even applies to our pit crew! Every year we have a separate crew for those who wish to support our efforts without actually running in the event, those who wish not to get dirty, or to hang with those who wish to take a break.
How has your own diagnosis affected how you view and experience events like MuckFest?
Since my diagnosis in 2015 I adopted the motto “use it or lose it.” Truly. Not to be cliché, but to literally live this practice with intention every day. I get as much oxygen and sun and exercise as I can. I have changed my diet with the support of a medical study funded by the National MS Society. I remain optimistic. I live life fully. I give to my community. I do still need to find a good mental acuity app, regulate a mind/body practice, and be more disciplined about sleep, however. But overall, life is a practice.
What do you want people to know about MS that they might not already?
It’s a long game. I look fine. I am fine. In some ways better than ever. But there’s a world of scary that I usually don’t talk about. I’m probably not the only one feeling this way.
That’s why a solid support system is everything. My community of loved ones is strong and loyal and available, and a group of people to whom I am so grateful —to the depths of my soul.
How are you an advocate for this mission all year long?
I talk about MS unabashedly. I talk about the kinds of things that the National MS Society funds. I let people know that they are among the most responsible nonprofits listed on GuideStar. I don’t let health insurance companies off the hook.
With advocates and warriors like Zoe, we know the future of MuckFest will be a bright one indeed!
Do you Muck with MS? How do you utilize the MuckFest community for support? What are your most memorable MuckFest memories? Tell us in the comments!