When Kari Albrecht Earll was diagnosed with the often debilitating disease multiple sclerosis, she was devastated. She thought her passion for running would have to end.
"I cried a lot. I went home, told my husband I was OK with him leaving me if he wanted to and he said he wasn’t leaving me. He would race in a wheelchair with me if that’s what it meant,” Earll said.
But five years later, Earll and her husband Mike will be running together – sans wheelchairs – in the Marine Corps Marathon to raise money for the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America.
“I think a lot of people don’t understand because people do associate MS with a wheelchair and it’s not true,” Earll said.
She said MS often affects each person differently.
“My biggest issue is cognitive function and chronic fatigue. That doesn’t mean that I’m in a wheelchair or will ever be,” she said.
MS damages or destroys the protective covering, known as myelin, surrounding the nerves of the central nervous system. The damage causes reduced communication between the brain and nerve pathways.
Common MS symptoms include visual problems, overwhelming fatigue, difficulty with balance and coordination, depression and cognitive issues and various levels of impaired mobility.
Earll, who is from St. Louis, has run two full marathons since her diagnosis.
"It's kind of my way of saying I'm not going to let it stop me or beat me. I'm certainly taking it by the horns and just moving forward," she said.
Experts estimate that 2.5 million people worldwide have been diagnosed with the disease.
To date, Kari and Mike have raised more than $2,000 for MSAA’s free programs and services.