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"I Walk" by Sarah J. Roberts (UTU Chapter)

Sarah candidly shares her journey to find peace with her MS Diagnosis, 'I'm an activist. I am an MS activist,' I thought. And I walked.

UTU_SarahRoberts_WalkSelfieI was diagnosed with MS last year. Almost as soon as I was diagnosed, I signed up for Walk MS because action and activism are how I deal with the fear and uncertainty of MS, and I knew I would have to approach my diagnosis by having a positive attitude.

My husband and I took our couple’s selfie, and dutifully posted on Facebook to share this moment with the family and friends who couldn’t be with us. I could hardly believe I’d just let Ruston, my husband, post a picture of me without makeup. Maybe I was finally letting go of my vanity—maybe.

We stepped from the shade, walking against the breeze and into the brisk, sunny morning. Autumn in the canyon is always picturesque, and this morning was certainly no exception. Nestled in the back of Ogden’s botanical gardens, we approached the booths and displays and saw a sea of orange where the festivities would begin.

Families laughed and gathered altogether, connected circles, probably to ward off the wind as it picked up. Kids ran and spilled their hot chocolate while mothers and fathers laughed called their children to order before the event. Orange ribbons were tied, orange t-shirts donned, and orange wristbands flashed. Soon, music from a local string quartet began to fill the air.

“Wow. This is a lot to take in,” I murmured. Ruston didn’t hear me, I’m sure. How could he?

We made our way to the table to sign in. “Let’s get this over with,” I thought.

“Here’s your walking kit, your water bottle, and your number, dear. You write the name of your team and the person you’re walking for right here.” I hadn’t known we would need to do that.

“Oh,” I paused. “Well, it’s me.” I could be mistaken, but I swear he did a double take before he swallowed his surprise and said, “Then you’re one of our guests of honor!” He had led me to another table before I had time to question what was happening. “You come right over here and get this number and the ‘I Walk With MS’ badge.”

Oh, dear Lord. I was going to have to wear a sign, like some scarlet letter, that says, “Look at me! I’m damaged.” Super. Like it’s impressive that I can walk at all, for Heaven’s sake. Well, at least it was green, I consoled myself, and my favorite bright, vibrant, lime chartreuse at that. I still wasn’t particularly fond of what I had come to call MS Orange.

“Is it a sign?” I couldn’t stop the ridiculous thought. I don’t believe in signs. But I do believe in finding reasons to smile. And right now, the fact that my number was green instead of orange was all I had.

I turned with our materials and grabbed Ruston’s hand. We walked to a quiet area to write our names and pin our numbers to our backs. We had to list the year of my diagnosis and my name on both of our numbers. I supposed it was so all the participants could see and know that it was people like me they were helping with their donated time, money, and the labors of those energetic, sculpted physiques.

Professional and recreational runners stretched like the rest of us—yes, I am one of them now—concentrated on our posture and holding our heads high as we made silent vows not to cry.

“I can’t just stand here and wait,” I said.

“Well, let’s take a walk then,” Ruston smiled. Thank god he didn’t have that overly perky lilt he adopts when he’s uncomfortable. How strange, I thought, that he was so comfortable and strong right now.  How strange and how fortunate. So we walked.

Celtic folk songs played and soothed my spirit as I held Ruston’s hand, and we meandered the flowered paths. I thought of all I had to be thankful for and began what was becoming a habit of mentally ticking off one self-affirmation after another. “Suck it up, Sarah. You are brave. You are strong. You are supported. You’re a teacher and a leader and a fighter for equity. You, Sarah, are an advocate. You’re an activist even.”

My thoughts were interrupted as the music concluded, and a speaker’s booming voice over the microphone carried above the noise and called us to order. Ruston and I joined the outskirts of the crowd and listened to the successes and struggles of the amazing, brave souls who had fought all year for their loved ones with MS to be recognized, supported, and healed. Laughter and tears mingled as we prepared for the journey ahead.

Then, with a cheer, we all set out on that path together, walking, jogging and running, even in wheel chairs and strollers. Ruston gave me a kiss and the tears flowed, but I smiled. “I’m an activist. I am an MS activist,” I thought.  And I walked.


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