THE BLOG
03/21/2014 03:44 pm ET Updated May 21, 2014

Swimming For Wellness With Multiple Sclerosis

As a health advocate, I'm often called on to speak with patients who are newly diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. I listen to their stories, and answer their questions based on my own experience of living with the disease for 28 years.

I tell these patients they are, ironically, diagnosed at a good time. With the availability of new medications and therapies they have more choices on how to treat their disease.

They also benefit from the advent of the Internet, which makes the world a much smaller place. Social connections and finding information have become easier with the plethora of websites, webinars and social forums that are now available.

Here's an example of what I mean. The Multiple Sclerosis Association of America (MSAA), after following my blog, An Empowered Spirit, emailed me to ask whether I'd be interested in setting up a Google hangout to interview two Ambassadors from their Swim for MS campaign.

Swim for MS is a national fundraising campaign to encourage people to swim, or sponsor those who swim, as a way of spreading awareness on the importance of exercise for people living with MS.

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Missy Franklin, a 2012 Olympic team member and multi-medal winner, is the Swim for MS Ambassador.

NOTE: People with MS sometimes have difficulty with traditional exercise on land, so swimming is an excellent option. The cooler temperature in a pool creates an inviting oasis, while the properties of water can make someone feel buoyant and alive.

A week after I received the email from MSAA, I found myself sitting in my home office, talking into my computer screen and interviewing two other Swim for MS Ambassador's, Mandy Iris Vercoe and Mary Sypawka. (This is incredible to me. If you have to ask why, consider yourself young.)

I listened to their stories, about their diagnosis, their initial grief and how they discovered swimming as a means to their own wellness. Together, these women have the kind of strength and courage that define the human spirit.

Mandy Iris Vercoe faced enormous obstacles just months after graduating from nursing school. First she received her diagnosis of MS, and then she soon learned her mother had incurable brain cancer. A hero and mentor to Mandy, her mom passed away a few months later. Mandy felt alone and scared, but through her grief she found swimming as a way to meditate and be at one with herself. She works out the stresses of the day with every stroke she takes, and finds swimming to be invigorating. An added benefit from her routine is a decrease in depression, fatigue and muscle spasms.

"For me, the pool is a place of meditation. It is a place where I can be who I am and work out anything that is bothering me." ~Mandy Iris Vercoe

Mary Sypawka's story began twenty years ago when she was diagnosed a few months before she planned to get married. She was a "working career crazy person", but ten years after her diagnosis it all caught up to her. Her MS symptoms forced her to stop working. This was extremely difficult until she realized her new job was taking care of herself. She began to swim at her local YMCA, and found comfort in a class specifically designed for people with MS. Being in the pool with others diagnosed with the same disease provided her with new "MS friends." She started swimming three to four times a week, giving her a new confidence about living a quality life with her MS.

"I believe that water has kept me moving in spite of my MS. It has made me stronger - in body and spirit." ~ Mary Sypawka

These stories of strength are empowering and enlightening. To learn more about Multiple Sclerosis, the Swim for MS campaign, or to watch videos about swimming as an exercise plan for wellness, please check out the MSAA website.

Photo Credit: Anna Webber Photography

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