In March of 2012, I woke up blind in my right eye for no apparent reason. It was just like any other day, but now I couldn't see out of one of my eyes.
I spent the better part of that week in a hospital, undergoing multiple tests and steroid infusions. I eventually left the hospital facing a 30-minute drive home with only the vision of my left eye—plus a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, a disease that I was completely unaware of. I had no idea what having multiple sclerosis would mean for the rest of my life.
Fast-forward eight years and I’ve learned a lot. I now know I can do things greatly living with MS, like running six marathons in six days in America's longest relay run.
Called MS Run the US, this event is an incredible challenge with a great mission to serve others. Participants commit to fundraising $10,000 and running 160 miles over six days during their assigned relay segment. There are 19 total segments that span from California to New York. And each runner’s segment is coordinated back-to-back with their teammates’ to cover the 3,260 miles in four-and-a-half months.
Here is how I got involved. One day, my Facebook feed showed me an advertisement for this crazy event, and I was intrigued. I had had three knee surgeries in the past six years, but I began running in March of 2020 because, while most of the country was locked down, the outdoors was not.
I love other sports and playing and coaching basketball and volleyball, but this year I just focused on running. Before I knew it, I was running two hours at a time without stopping—a pleasant surprise considering I never saw myself as a distance runner. I also started reading about ultramarathons, and there was something about running 100 miles in 24 hours that appealed to me.
Due to my knee surgeries, my competitive basketball and volleyball days were done. But now I was able to feed the hunger to push my body to its limits by running. “I will run an ultramarathon in 2021,” I decided. Then I found MS Run the US.
WGU has played a significant part in my growth from the person that left the hospital in 2012. From a man wondering if he'd ever fully see again to the man that was invited to join MS Run the US’s selective team of athletes.
At the start of my MS journey, I had no guarantee of getting my vision back. This marked the beginning of learning to do life differently. Simple things like being able to read a book or even seeing the cursor move on a computer screen were a challenge.
I remember one day at the grocery store where I worked having to get down on my knees and bring my head inches from the bottom shelf just so I could read a price for a customer. I walked into displays, endcaps, and doorways countless times because I couldn’t see from my right side. Each bump was a reminder of my new life.
My co-workers knew about my diagnosis, and they were generous with their support. Physically speaking, I appeared normal. People that didn't know my story, however, weren't as understanding, and a good sense of humor helped me work through those awkward times.
Three years after these early days with MS, WGU came across my computer screen.
I had always wanted to go back to college and finish the bachelor’s degree that I started in 1998. I dropped out of traditional college because I was a retail manager and my work schedule did not allow time for classes. I was making good money at the time, so I decided to continue working in retail management. However, at least once a week I thought about my unfinished degree and my desire to complete what I had started.
After learning more about the school, I fell in love with WGU. I loved that I would have an opportunity to accelerate my degree based on my own work ethic. And the pricing for each term at WGU was very reasonable, which sealed the deal for me. So I submitted my transcripts and awaited my start date.
The WGU learning model was perfect for me. I was able to study around my work schedule, and with the mobile app, I could spend time studying when I was at lunch or on a break as well. Due to my MS, I deal with brain fog and fatigue, and I never know when they are going to hit. There were many days when I had an examination scheduled that this fatigue or brain fog struck. However, I was able to reschedule the exams for a later time. If I was at a traditional university, I might not have been given that opportunity.
When brain fog or fatigue come on, it is very difficult to focus on anything, and having the ability to reschedule an appointment with a course mentor was a blessing to me. My vision is not perfect, but it is much better today, and vision loss isn't my only symptom. I have bouts of vertigo, spasms, and fatigue.
The fatigue is the one thing that has persisted through my entire fight with MS. I can only imagine what learning for me would have been like in a traditional school setting with these symptoms. WGU’s learning resources are wonderful. I can pause and replay videos, and many of the course reading assignments are available in audio format as well. I feel very confident in the learning model that WGU provides and because of that, I will be returning in 2021 to begin an MBA program.
I used the confidence that I built from this process to apply for and finish the MS Run the US. Thirty days after I graduated with my Bachelor of Science in Business Management from WGU, I also accepted a challenge of running 167 miles in six days from Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, to Brookville, Pennsylvania. The Executive Director and Founder of the event, Ashley Schneider, was the 16th female to run across the United States by herself, doing it to raise money to fight multiple sclerosis—a battle her mother fought.
When I reflect on what life has taught me since 2012, a favorite quote comes to mind. The words, I know, mean a great deal to many. But to me, they define the battle I am in each and every day with multiple sclerosis.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
As with millions of others, I did not choose MS, it chose me. There are good days and bad days in this fight. At the end of my worst days, I find myself still here and ready for whatever the next day brings.
Rich Stein graduated from WGU in September 2020 with a degree in business management. You can follow his journey on Instagram at running_greatly_with_ms or contribute to his fundraising activities at https://www.msruntheus.org/campaigns/richstein.