Kayaking with MS

After her diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, Suzanne Powell wondered if her physically active lifestyle was over. Kayaking was her passion. Could she keep it up? She started planning for life after kayaking. Fortunately, those plans since have only gathered dust.


What do manatees, owls and flamingos have in common? That was how my original kayaking article for ActiveMSers in 2008 started regarding my MS diagnosis in April of that year at the age of 50. I was musing about the wonderful wildlife I had seen while kayaking in Florida and wondering if my physically active lifestyle was over. Learning that I had MS was devastating because my life revolved around kayaking, primitive camping and hiking. In my original article I had outlined detailed plans that would keep me kayaking, my obsession. Fortunately those plans have only gathered dust.

Almost 6 years after I said that I would likely abandon long 7-9 hour paddle trips in favor of shorter ones (2 to 3 hours), I am happy to report that I have never deviated from my original paddling times. As a matter of fact, last year was my first 18 mile day! Now, I am planning an eight-day Upper Suwannee kayaking and primitive camping trip for this year—my longest ever.

Having MS doesn’t mean we have to stop living. 

One of the other contingencies was to have a tow rope just in case I couldn’t finish the trip on my own power. So far I have used my tow rope only for hanging my life vest to dry. Now, I wouldn’t be able to do any of this if it wasn’t for the support from my amazing friends. They don’t treat me as if I can’t do anything. They let me do everything on my own and wait for me to ask for help. They don’t try to “take care of me,” but they are there without question when I need help lifting my kayak or hauling my gear to a primitive campsite.

As a matter of fact, I can run circles around my friends who are physically healthy. (Well, not “run” technically). I tire them out! Of course, I have had to make some adjustments to my outdoor activities, but they are just adjustments—not elimination!


Having MS doesn’t mean we have to stop living.  It only means that we have to make adjustments in our lives and have the courage to stand up to this disease and say, “No, you are not going to rule my life.” So, I want all of you to try something even if it seems impossible. Take that first step… or paddle stroke.  Anything is possible!

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