Nashville, Tennessee (CNN)Sometimes life doesn't turn out like you planned. Sometimes life leads you on a journey that you don't always understand. But everything in life happens for a reason.
World MS Day: Disease 'helped me to run faster'
1 of 16
2 of 16
3 of 16
4 of 16
5 of 16
6 of 16
7 of 16
8 of 16
9 of 16
10 of 16
11 of 16
12 of 16
13 of 16
14 of 16
15 of 16
16 of 16
In October 2010, my life took an unexpected turn. I was playing in a soccer tournament one day and took a bad fall landing on my tailbone. Later I felt a pain in my neck and down my spine. It got worse throughout the week and before long I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
MS. At age 15. MS is a disease in which the body's immune system attacks tissue and cells within the central nervous system and causes damage to nerve connections, resulting in neurological symptoms. Essentially, MS interrupts or short-circuits the flow of information within the brain and between the brain and body.
I cried. A lot. And I was mad. I didn't understand why or how something like this could happen to me.
For the next eight months I couldn't feel anything in my legs. But slowly, the pieces of my life started to come together in a new way. My doctors found medicine that helped the feeling return to my legs. I gave up contact sports like soccer.
And I turned to running.
No-one knows how long each of us has to do the things we enjoy in life. I don't know for how many more years I'll be able to use my legs. So I decided that I could either spend time worrying about how little time I might be able to use my legs ... or I could get out there and USE my legs.
I found a high school coach who believed in me, encouraged me and held me accountable. I started believing in myself. Before this unexpected turn in my life, I had been an average runner. But my "new" body — with all of its changes due to MS — allowed me to be a better runner. I can't feel anything when I run. It's an odd sensation to know that my legs are moving, but I can't feel them.
I don't feel pain when I run. I just run.
This new part of my journey has resulted in my getting faster and led me to another unexpected turn. Today, I am a student athlete, on scholarship, at Lipscomb University in Nashville. And I have MS.
MS describes me, but MS does not define me.
I just want to be a normal college student, and not do anything that draws attention to myself or away from my teammates. But sometimes my story does that. Sometimes it gets overwhelming and frustrating. It's my story to tell and to share when and where I want to share it.
But then I realize we are all flawed in some way, and that my story can help inspire or motivate others who have MS or any other condition that gets in the way of one being able to pursue their dreams.
I believe one of the reasons my journey has led me to where I am today is to show others they can have a fulfilling life and have MS. Another reason is to create awareness of MS to encourage research and resources to be invested in finding a cure.
The progress, severity and specific symptoms of multiple sclerosis in any one person cannot yet be predicted, but advances in research and treatment are moving us closer to a world free of MS. Most people with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, with at least two to three times more women than men found to have the disease.
I am one of about 2.3 million people around the world with MS. Others, who are doing big things with their lives, include country music singers Clay Walker and Julie Roberts, NASCAR driver Trevor Bayne, mountain climber and marathoner Wendy Booker, and political activist Ann Romney (wife of former U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney).
We are making progress. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society is mobilizing people and resources to drive research for a cure and to address the challenges of everyone affected by MS. Last year, the society invested $50.2 million to advance more than 380 research projects around the world in order to stop MS in its tracks, restore function that has been lost and end MS forever.
Wednesday May 27 is World MS Day, which unites some 70 nations around the globe in an effort to raise awareness and understanding of the disease. My hope is that everyone who hears my story or who knows someone with MS will take a few minutes to learn more about the disease and how we all can play a role in making a difference.
I am Kayla Montgomery, and I am on a journey to live my dream.