From Barely Walking...to Ironman

Updated: Jul 21

Mark Van Meter was diagnosed with MS at the age of 20. In a flash he had gone from fully active and healthy as an avid wrestler to a person who could barely walk or even write his own name. Today he is officially an Ironman.


I was diagnosed with MS in 1983 at the age of 20. It was only three weeks earlier that I was actively working out and preparing for the wrestling season to start. In a flash I had gone from fully active and healthy to a person who could barely walk or even write his own name. At that point in time there was no approved therapy, only steroids.


Stop Exercising? Really?

I really hated the neurologist I was going to, so I did everything contradictory to what he told me to do. He told me, a wrestler, to stop exercising. I was a wrestler. He told me, a Phoenix resident, to stay out of the heat. So every day I would think of positive things to counteract the negative.


Negative: Most of your friends who you hung with don’t visit you when you are stuck in bed.

Positive: The friends that did show up were really devoted friends, man I need to be grateful for them.


Negative: What if this gets really bad, what if I am in a wheelchair next?

Positive: How can I challenge myself in this new shell of a body? Each day I am going to try to cope better with my situation.


Negative: The numbness is getting worse in my left hand.

Positive: My left foot seems to extend farther today.


And so on...


For six months I would work on slowly adjusting and trying to get back into life from a physical and mental point of view. Each day I would move my feet a little farther or coordinate moving my hand to where I wanted it to be. I realize today that most of the recovery process was due to the course of relapsing MS and not because of me overcoming it with willpower. But willpower did give me the hope to move on and not give up from a mental point of view.


After three months I was feeling quite a bit better, and after six months I was pretty much back to a point where I could ride a bike comfortably and be mobile again without thinking of the tingling sensations. Up until my diagnosis, I’d always push my body to its potential, and my dream was to do great things in my sport of wrestling (and get my pilot’s license). Now I needed to redefine the term “pushing my body.”


Since my fast twitch muscles seemed to be very shaky, I decided to start running slowly and for 5 or fewer kilometers. I found a rhythm to my run and that lead me to start running farther distances, still at a slow pace. I continued to set goals in front of me and started to run marathons and do triathlons.


I believe a person can always have a vision for themselves and pursue dreams. I have also come to the conclusion that our visions and dreams need to be reevaluated from time to time. And that’s okay.

Things were going well I thought. I figured that I had gone into a permanent remission, with just a little bit of tingling and weakness. Of course every once in a while I would get completely exhausted or get weaknesses in different areas of my body. Hmm. These unfortunate reminders of MS would continue to haunt me, and I started missing sporting events and family activities. My life began to be plagued with inconstancy and frustration.


DMTs Revive Hope and Physical Abilities

Then I finally found a neurologist who cared to participate in my life and my personal struggle with MS. He was the one to inform me of the hope that proven MS drug therapy had to offer. He explained to me that MS never goes into true remission and the proof was in my MRI, which showed additional lesions. I started on a disease modifying drug.


Since I have been on therapy, I have not missed any major family activities nor have I missed any major athletic events. I have also been able to keep my pilot’s license, as the therapy I am taking is approved by the Federal Aviation Administration. I have had two more MRIs since I have been on therapy and they have shown no additional lesions.


Today at age 47 I have completed my first Ironman, and I am pursuing the dream to go to Kona next year. I ran in the Phoenix PF Chang’s Marathon earlier this year and hope to make it to Boston next year. What a difference. When I was 20 I thought I would be dead by age 40. Life has only gotten better it seems!

I believe a person can always have a vision for themselves and pursue dreams. I have also come to the conclusion that our visions and dreams need to be reevaluated from time to time. And that’s okay. Here are some of the goals I have laid out for the rest of this year:

  • Continue to coach my son in wrestling

  • Continue to work and encourage my daughters in their visions

  • Continue to support my wife as she continues to reach for her own goals

  • Continue to give hope to others with MS that life goes on beyond MS

  • Compete in the AZ Ironman in November to pursue Kona qualifications

What are your visions? What are your dreams? And how are you going to make them happen?

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