Guest post written by Boston Mucker, Jennifer A. She is Boston Strong, an MS warrior, and an amazing mother and wife. She returned to team “Just Keep Smyelin” at the 2018 Boston MuckFest® MS.
2013 proved to be a year of heartache and triumph for the city of Boston, as it did for the Almodovar family, as well. My husband, Archie, and I welcomed our daughter into this beautiful city only a few days after the Red Sox won the World Championship at home. After she was born, the entire left side of my body was paralyzed. Growing up, I remember dancing on the toes of my father as he held my hands. It was a childhood memory I suddenly didn’t think I’d get to share with my own little girl. My pregnancy had its hiccups along the way. In the beginning of my second trimester, Archie and I stood at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, appreciating the blue sky and joyful exclamations as the first runners began passing by. My morning sickness drew us away from the crowds until we found a place to sit and rest. We were two blocks away when the bombs exploded and sought shelter in the W Hotel downtown for the next 9 hours.
As the pregnancy progressed, my legs experienced weakness and my back spasmed uncontrollably at times. That summer, I fell while stepping into the shower as my left leg gave out beneath me. A careless mistake, we assured ourselves. Months later, both of my legs collapsed as I walked hand in hand with Archie after celebrating our first wedding anniversary together. Surely, it could only be from the fatigue that comes with being eight months pregnant.
It was a regular Tuesday afternoon, like any other New Year’s Eve before it. A day full of anticipation for new beginnings and a sense of relief in kissing 2013 behind us, with one exception. We had my follow-up neurology appointment at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center to review my brain and spine MRI results. As a graduate student at Harvard University, my studies focused on neuroscience and neurodegenerative diseases. I knew all too well what it meant for my physical examination to have revealed bilateral clonus and hyperreflexia prior to having scans done. This appointment was what could be called, “the moment of truth,” in every MS patient’s story.
My husband looked to me to answer the millions of questions that come along with scan results depicting demyelinating plaque at C4 and T2 in my spine. I held my 6-week-old baby in a chest carrier when we received the diagnosis and I remember kissing the top of her head, trembling with fear of the battle awaiting us. The days following the diagnosis were lived in silence, with only the occasional crying of a tiny baby, a distraught husband, and a new mom who no longer felt she could be the hero her daughter needed.
In April of 2014, we made the decision to move our small family to my hometown of Jacksonville, FL, where Mayo Clinic’s sister campus was located. From wheelchairs to walkers, to IV Solumedrol treatments and spinal nerve root ablations, it would take three years and a village of family and friends to learn to walk again on my own. For three years, I felt as if I sat on the sidelines of my daughter’s life, watching everyone else able to help her. The only time I felt immersed in her little world came when she began learning the alphabet, her numbers, and reading as a toddler. I didn’t know how to be a mom in a wheelchair, but tutoring young children was a passion of mine that started as a high school student volunteering at Hope Haven, an after-school program for children with physical and developmental disabilities. Finally, I realized a way to connect with my daughter and help her grow the way any parent wants to contribute to their child’s life.
Multiple Sclerosis can not only rob the body of physical functions, but also significantly strain the mind of the patient. Within the first year on medications I dropped from 135 lbs. to 118 lbs. Being 5’10”, the weight loss quickly showed on my ribcage and emaciated facial appearance. In addition to navigating the labyrinth of PTSD symptoms from the Boston Marathon, I struggled with clinical depression, fatigue, muscle weakness, spasticity, and chronic pain. The hardest symptom to overcome, however, was in my own head. The majority of my self-identity up to that point revolved around my photographic memory. As a student, it was my single greatest point of pride. MS stripped me of that ability as I suffered a series of grand mal seizures in January of 2016. The seizures turned out to be a blessing in disguise though.
After beginning medications to control them, I regained a portion of my previous ability to form new memories, organize my thoughts, and even hold a fairly normal conversation again. It was the beginning of a wonderful series of hopeful events. Being able to organize my thoughts meant I could remember my physical therapy routines more easily, I followed a strict medication routine and diet, I slowly became stronger as an MS patient, a mother, and a partner to my husband. I began to resemble the woman who cheered on the runners at the Marathon, and blue skies were certainly above us once more.
In March of 2017, we moved back to Boston. We found the perfect home in the town of Stoneham, walking distance to St. Patrick Catholic Church and School, where our daughter begins Pre-K 4 in the Fall. As newcomers to the community, we were often asked why anyone would leave Florida to face the brutal winters of Boston? That, to us at least, remains a no-brainer.
Because we are Boston Strong.
Our daughter was born here. This is the city we call home. Boston gives us strength to keep fighting, not only for a cure for MS, but also this city reminds us of what it means to never give up.
And yes, my daughter laughs when I hold her hands as she stands on my feet to waltz in our kitchen. Her name is Aida Medina and she is the reason why I tirelessly fight to end this disease.
If you’ve never done a MuckFest® MS before, it’s unlikely you’ve ever experienced anything like it. We’re not like other 5Ks, and we’re not like other mud runs. We are a muckin’ original, and if you’re joining us this year, you might have some questions. Luckily, we have the answers! Here’s what you need to know…
This isn’t like other mud runs
MuckFest MS is meant to be a day of action-packed fun! It’s not a competition, and there is no “winner.” You’re all winners! The only contest is to see who can get the muddiest, so people of all skill and fitness levels can come out to the mud.
Don’t stress about your start time or your finish time…just worry about who has the most epic wipe-out as you conquer 18 crazy obstacles!
Mud is for everyone!
Though you must be 12 years old to run, we don’t want the kiddos to feel left out! That’s why we have a Lil’ Muckers area for kids aged 5-11. They can come and get in on the muddy fun, too!
If you don’t want to get muddy, you can cheer from the sidelines! We love having a big crowd out to motivate and support our Muckers! You can also volunteer, too. We couldn’t do it without our amazing volunteers!
Join (or create) a team
MuckFest MS can be done solo, but everything is better with friends! We have Team Captain Facebook Groups for our events (you can check them out here) so you can join a team or get advice on how to recruit your pals to join you! Lots of teams also do fundraising and training events together, which will get you in the MuckFest MS spirit before the run.
Rock the gear
Wear closed-toe sneakers – No cleats allowed! Wear clothes that you don’t mind getting mucky, and you should wear clothes that won’t restrict your movement and provide protection. Pants or shorts are fine, and many muckers wear thin work or athletic gloves to get a better grip on obstacles. We recommend wearing your hair up to keep it out of your face, and bandanas/headbands are a great idea for everyone.
Lots of Muckers also dress in fun costumes like kilts, tutus, and more! So, feel free to get creative with your outfit!
Pack a bag
Everyone gets a t-shirt at the end of the event and we also have an area to wash off, but we definitely recommend bringing at least bottoms to change into and flip flops or other sandals for your muddy feet. Maybe bring some baby wipes for extra cleaning, too… 😉
You have to BELIEVE
Most people don’t army crawl through mud, swing into muddy water, or scale a mud hill on their average weekend. Try new things, test your boundaries and surprise yourself with your skills!
Take the wins with the wipe outs
You might fall down. You might faceplant in the mud. But you are also going to conquer an awesome 5K, get muddy and have a muddy blast.
When you raise your beer to toast your teammates in the MuckFestival, remember all that you’ve accomplished and how muckin’ awesome you are every day.
Drink water leading up to, and after you get all mucked up. We also have a free beer for the 21+ crowd who Muck with us. Because every good workout should be celebrated with a beer at the end!
Aside from being fun, MuckFest MS is a great spot to get fun photos! Want a great shot for the family holiday card? Need a new Facebook or dating app profile pic? We have you covered! We have a photographer on hand at every event capturing all the magical moments. You can relive Muck again and again.
Philly, you took on the weekend in EPIC muddy fashion. Way to get down and dirty for two straight days, raising nearly $400K! Check out these highlights from MuckFest MS Philadelphia!
More participant photos are coming soon as well!
“You might look at someone, and think, ‘You don’t look like you have MS.’
But what does someone with MS look like? We look like you!”
Walter Clark (his friends call him Spike) knows he might not immediately appear like he is living with multiple sclerosis. But, it has been nearly a decade since he received his diagnosis. Since then, his life has never been the same. He hasn’t let that stop him from living his life though, and from doing all he can to support others who are fighting the same fight.
He began giving that support, and participating in National MS Society events, the spring after his diagnosis. That started with Walk MS and led him to MuckFest® MS Philadelphia the following year! He admits he wasn’t fully prepared for that first run, but that didn’t stop him from coming back again the next year, and the next…and the next!
“After doing it, there’s such a sense of accomplishment. I completed that! You feel great about yourself, and it’s going towards people who are living with this horrible disease.”
Spike loves feeling this sense of accomplishment personally, but also loves to see it on the faces of his teammates as they cross the finish line. And what a team it is! “Spike’s Wolfpack” started with only Spike and two friends, but it’s now grown to include many other family and friends.
They’re in it together!
“I always look forward to seeing people’s smiling faces at the end. They’re so proud. I like seeing everyone getting dirty and laughing and having that comradery. Or that smile when you accomplished something you didn’t think you could.”
He remembers one time specifically where his friend’s mom, who was very afraid of heights, balked when she saw Mt. Muck-imanjaro. She didn’t know if she could tackle the obstacle, but the whole team came together to cheer her on and support her. She made it to the top, then completed the obstacle (and the run!) with a huge smile on her face.
That is what MuckFest MS is all about for Spike: tackling your fears. And of course, having a lot of fun in the mud!
Other than Mt. Muck-imanjaro, Spike also loves the Flying Muckers zip line, The Spinner, Swingset, and Big Balls. (Whatever gets him the muddiest!) Last year, he even did a huge belly flop to start off the run with a splash!
For first-time Muckers, he recommends staying as active as you can leading up to the race. He also recommends bringing extra clothes, a pair of flip flops and a towel to clean up with after you get down in the muck. Come, get ready to get mucky, and know that you’re doing an amazing thing by participating.
Jennifer Martel is a passionate mucker who walks in memory of her father, and we’re so excited to share her MuckFest® MS story with you! Be sure to scroll through the whole post to see pictures of Jennifer and her team.
My senior year of high school was a very memorable one. My mother was pregnant with my youngest brother as I was preparing to enter adulthood. I am the oldest child of seven, with 18 years between me and the youngest. What should have been a year of happy events actually turned out to be a year of mixed emotions for my family in 1991.
My father, who was 39 at the time, began experiencing numbness and tingling in his hands. His walking started to become unstable, almost as if he were drunk. Many visits to his primary care physician resulted in no definitive answers other than the possibility of carpel tunnel syndrome. An MRI was out of the question due to previously being shot by a pellet gun, which lodged a pellet behind his eye. Removal was not recommended and because of the magnetic imaging, he could not risk having the pellet move due to where it had been sitting for several years.
As his symptoms worsened, he made a visit to Brigham & Women’s Hospital. There he met a wonderful neurologist who administered a spinal tap. The spinal tap revealed a diagnosis we had never really heard much of: MS. Not only did my hardworking father of seven have multiple sclerosis, but he had Primary Progressive MS. Within a couple of years he was forced to retire from his textile printing job that he loved.
His symptoms worsened to the point where he needed a cane to help him walk. In 1994 I was blessed to have him still be able to walk me down the aisle and have our father-daughter dance. That was his best with the disease. Following would be issues with incontinence, swallowing and even breathing. In 1996, he was in a wheelchair. By 2008 he was in a long-term care facility. My mother tried to keep him at home but his care became 24/7.
He missed out on so much. He never was able to enjoy his retirement or his 5 grandchildren. His strong heart, the only part of his body unaffected by the MS, finally gave up on August 8, 2013. With his family by his bedside, he peacefully slipped away. I muck and participate in as many MS events as I can in order to honor his memory and the fight against MS. I fight so no child ever has to watch a parent suffer for so many years.
The FUN Mud Run is coming for you, Boston! We sat down with Eddy T. of “The Seacoast Muckers” for an interview, and came out of it knowing this… Eddy is a passionate Mucker, and this event is important to him and thousands of fighters across the country living with MS.
How were you introduced to MuckFest MS?
“I have MS. I was diagnosed 8.5 years ago. Within months of my diagnosis, I was connected with the MS Society. A good friend of mine from high school has MS and well, and he reached out to me and said, ‘I’m reaching out to the Society to get involved, and I’m giving them your name as well.’ So, from there, I’ve been involved with golf tournaments and muck events.”
Why is raising funds for the National MS Society important to YOU?
“The MS Society was the first place I went to gather information; to kind of calm my nerves a little bit and calm my fears. They have so many resources and so much information they can provide to people with MS, whether newly diagnosed, or running into other issues when they live with it.”
Who do you Muck with?
“I run with family and friends. My 14-year-old son does it with me, and a whole group of friends.”
How would you describe MuckFest MS?
“The comradery of everyone there, it’s really a festival, it’s not a competition. There’s music, and really just people having FUN, trying to raise money to help all of us who have MS. It’s a party!”
Eddy serves as co-chair on the MuckFest MS committee and the Board of Trustees for the Greater New England MS Society Chapter. Thank you for all you do, Eddy!
Guest post written by Erin R., a Boston Mucker.
Michael and I have been mucking together for years! We have participated in the past 4 years of MuckFest MS® events in Boston. All of that mucking love was just one of the things that brought us close together and contributed to our engagement late in 2017! As avid Muckers, Michael and I knew that we had to think about MuckFest MS when we were considering our wedding date! After getting engaged, we emailed to see if a date had been set for the 2018 MuckFest MS Boston. We waited for the date to be set before setting our wedding date. While we were disappointed to figure out that a wedding could not be hosted at the event itself 😉, we decided to incorporate MuckFest MS as much as we could in our wedding planning.
We will be getting married in early May this year and taking the plunge into the muck as newlyweds just two short weeks later! We have decided to have a donation jar at our wedding in lieu of wedding gifts. Puck the Muck Duck will be making his presence known at our celebration as he will be incorporated in many ways into the décor of our backyard event! We have even added crazy incentives such as Michael taking a polar plunge into the river the morning after the wedding if he reaches his fundraising goal! And instead of a honeymoon we will be taking our Mucky-moon by wearing just married costumes through the 5k muddy course!
All this fun and frivolity aside, MuckFest MS really means a lot to both of us. Both my father and my maternal grandmother have Multiple Sclerosis. MS is a disease that is both hard to diagnose and unpredictable. It impacts each patient in different ways. Seeing the ways that it impacted the lives of my loved ones inspired me to become involved with the National MS Society. After several years of fundraising for walks, I discovered MuckFest MS! These events truly change lives. The network that the National MS Society has created of people working together to fight MS is truly remarkable. There is a spirit of teamwork and good will that is present at the events that is unrivaled by other types of events. The work and research done by the funds raised by the National MS Society can change and improve the lives of MS patients.
This hilarious guest post is written by Erik R., a Mucker in Boston.
So for the last four years I have captained an ever-growing band of fun runners, who get together once a year to play in the mud in order to support the National MS Society, with the hope of raising awareness and cold hard cash to fight Multiple Sclerosis. This will be the fifth year that Marcella’s Muckers has competed in this friendly event and our team has grown from a respectable thirteen runners, or Muckers, in 2013 to forty-three in 2017.
Eventually people smarten up and decide not to continue to abuse their bodies or realize that mud doesn’t belong in every orifice in their body, so when I come calling the following year asking them to join us they quickly book a trip to some exciting destination, like Afghanistan, or North Korea. If their passport has been revoked they may feign an injury or if they are method actors they will have a loved one jump on their ankle until it fractures. For reasons like that, I find myself being asked the same question every year by new Muckers I have shanghaied, I mean recruited, to run with us. How do I train for this?
That is a great question. I usually just ask them if they drink. If the answer is no, I suggest they start. If the answer is yes, I suggest they drink more. Personally, I have been training for this event for years now. My liver completes it in record time. Others may want to take this as a serious challenge to their physical and mental stamina. That brings about the conversation of the race as a metaphor for the physical, mental, and emotional challenges someone with multiple sclerosis suffers, but others can speak to that much better than I.
I’ve decided to put together a definitive training guide. This guide will test not only your strength, speed, and dexterity, but may also test your bail bondsman and lawyer, since it may take breaking and entering or trespassing to find a landscape as harsh and cruel as a mud-run course. You may also drag down others with you since there is a necessary component to this training that requires a trainer, or as we call them in the illicit training trade, accomplices.
WHAT HAPPENS: You begin the race in the Muckin’ Corral where you and five-hundred of your closest friends are penned in a muddy area awaiting the race to begin. Usually an MC will attempt to get the crowd focused on the trial at hand by cracking jokes or calling out teams who have done well fundraising.
HOW TO TRAIN: Visit your local cow or pig farm. Climb in the most crowded pen you can find. Stand around for twenty minutes while your trainer blasts AC/DC or Guns N’ Roses out of a boom box built in 1988. Attempt to take off your wedding band, watch, and sunglasses. Push through the herd of animals and hand off the items to your trainer without dropping them in the mud, where they will be lost forever or eaten by swine.
WHAT HAPPENS: The race begins at the Start where you will be jostled, pushed, potentially trampled, and soaked while passing through an archway that sprays water down on you in an effort to maximize the amount of mud you will carry with you throughout the race.
HOW TO TRAIN: Buy a ticket at your local multiplex for a new release. I recommend something about Star Wars or a Marvel Super Hero. About twenty minutes into the film yell “Shark”, because you should never yell “Fire” in a movie theater. As everyone begins to exit in a safe and orderly manner, as prescribed just twenty minutes earlier in a helpful on-screen instructional, pour your extra-large fountain drink over your head and push your way to the exit.
WHAT HAPPENS: Your first real obstacle is the Triple Pits, which true to its name, is three muddy, rocky pits that you must run into and out of, possibly by using the person in front of you as a human ladder.
HOW TO TRAIN: Find a local skateboard park. Have the local skate punks practice their most difficult tricks while you run down and up the steepest portion of their half-pipe. Bonus points if a rider performs a 360 Ollie Kickflip over you or a Grind on you.
WHAT HAPPENS: You run into the Big Balls, which as you may imagine, are a group of big balls suspended over a pit of mud, possibly on some sort of intricate overhead wire system, possibly by the same magic that keeps balloons aloft. I’ve never thought to look up and see or I did and forgot after my concussion.
HOW TO TRAIN: Fill your bathtub with ½ inch water, ½ inch potting soil. Have your trainer throw red rubber playground balls at you until you slip and fall.
WHAT HAPPENS: You run across the Shake & Quake and while you never actually fall in the water, you do flinch like a little girl when the water actuators go off, hitting you with a stream from a small water cannon.
HOW TO TRAIN: Go down to your local fire station, preferably one with a pump truck. Heckle the firemen until they turn the hose on you. If you don’t have a working or friendly relationship with your local fire department you may go to any major city and start a riot. The water cannons turned on you by police work in much the same manner.
WHAT HAPPENS: You thread your way through the Spider Web, which is like the worst knot your shoe has ever had wrapped around a ball of unwound yarn, stretched across your door frame with bungee cords.
HOW TO TRAIN: Purchase fifty or more bungee cords, wrap around yarn and shoelaces, and attach to door frame. Climb through. Fall. Climb. Fall. Repeat.
WHAT HAPPENS: You get a chance to play on the Swing Set and launch yourself into a pit of water. If you are the type that must hold your nose in the shower, this is going to be a problem.
HOW TO TRAIN: Go to your local park, preferably at night. Borrow the swing set. Set up swing set in front of an in-ground pool. Stand on swing seat, pump until potential energy and maximum height is reached. Leap off. Remember to set up the swing so the length of the pool is in front of you. You should probably remember that before the whole potential energy and maximum height thing.
WHAT HAPPENS: You grab hold of a rope and let The Spinner take you for a spin. All the while you lose your tenuous grip on the wet rope, sliding further and further into the water.
HOW TO TRAIN: If you live near a large lake, find a water ski aficionado and have them pull you from behind their boat. Otherwise, visit your elderly neighbor who still has an old-style umbrella clothesline rack in their yard. Run at the clothesline at a 45 degree angle, leap into the air, catching the plastic coated ropes in your hands, see how many rotations you can achieve before the entire unit collapses under your weight.
WHAT HAPPENS: You zip down the line on the Flying Muckers until you are unceremoniously launched into the water.
HOW TO TRAIN: Find a neighbor with an aerial dog run, ideally when they are out-of-town and have the dog properly boarded elsewhere. Tie the dog run across either the same in-ground pool you used for the Swing Set, or more likely another pool where the owners aren’t vigilantly waiting for the scofflaw who left a swing set in their yard to return to the scene of the crime. Take a zip on the line. If this scenario doesn’t work you may find a tall building, take off your belt, and do a Tango & Cash.
WHAT HAPPENS: You reach Spill Hill and run all the way to the muddy top only to have to run down again.
HOW TO TRAIN: Visit your local garden and lawn center. Run up and down the largest pile of dirt you can find. When the meniscus in your knees is visible under your skin, you have completed the needed repetitions.
WHAT HAPPENS: You drag yourself backwards through the mud, using a rope to create a Skid Mark.
HOW TO TRAIN: Glue 30 or 40 pieces of sandpaper down in your driveway. Lie on your back, grab the garden hose and pull yourself along until you pass out from the pain.
WHAT HAPPENS: After a moment or two of acrophobia followed by a bout of vertigo, you climb Mt. Muck-Imanjaro making sure to keep your footing.
HOW TO TRAIN: If you live on the coast, visit a tall ship museum and climb the rigging. Otherwise, attend a carnival and attempt to win a cheaply Made-in-Taiwan stuffed animal by climbing the Looney-Ladder. While you’re there, visit the Shoot-the-Star out game, just because.
WHAT HAPPENS: You climb to the top of the platform, feeling you are master of all you survey. Then, when prompted, you leap into the soft arms of a stunt pad and perform a Crash Landing. Make sure to bend your knees.
HOW TO TRAIN: Drag your entire mattress collection outside, make a pile along with all your cotton t-shirts, socks, and assorted sundries. Jump out the 2nd story window into said pile. If you cannot gather enough materials to jump into, light the house on fire. When the Fire Department arrives, demand they set up a net to catch you.
WHAT HAPPENS: You walk the Tight Rope, attempting not to fall into the water.
HOW TO TRAIN: Go back to the house where you set up the aerial dog run. If they haven’t removed it yet, tie a second length of rope across the pool so it just touches the water, running parallel with the aerial run. Perform a hand-over-hand across the pool. If pool owner begins to chase you, perform an Indiana Jones and cut the rope ladder.
WHAT HAPPENS: You see the finish line in the distance. All of your hard work and training has culminated in this moment. All you have left is the tunnel otherwise known as the Belly Crawl.
HOW TO TRAIN: Get a cheese grater, or if you’re a manly man you may use one of your many rasps. I prefer a cabinet rasp for this job. Lie in your driveway and continuously scrub the grater or rasp across your knees and elbows until they bleed freely. Roll across your driveway until the previously grated areas are filled with debris.
WHAT HAPPENS: You Finish!
HOW TO TRAIN: Practice sucking in your gut while cutting onions, since the finish line is where they are sure to take your photo.
WHAT HAPPENS: Attend the MuckFestival. Clean clothes are optional. Clothes are not optional.
HOW TO TRAIN: Get a drink. I prefer beer. Drink it. Repeat.
Now, if you’ve read all of this you have too much time on your hands or you’re really curious about mud runs. Despite my sarcasm, they are a lot of fun. You make friendships that last as you bond over adversities mutually conquered while raising money for a great charity.
So tonight Tequila! For tomorrow we muck!