Thirty-one year old Alyson O’Connor has plenty to keep her busy. The Astoria, Oregon fitness instructor is married to Jim and mom to 7 year old Brook and 5 year old Jake. In addition, several times a month she rushes from her home at the sound of the fire whistle to provide aid as a volunteer fire fighter. “There are more medical calls than fire calls, but what really makes me nervous,” Alyson says, “are the car crashes, especially if they have gone off the embankment. I don’t want to go down there. It isn’t a strength issue,” she explains. “I can’t see where my feet are if it is steep or if I’m carrying someone on a stretcher.”
During the winter months Alyson and the other responders have to maneuver over ice covered roads. She says there is a positive side to the heavy equipment they wear. “Our gear is very heavy, but the one good thing is, if I’m wearing it when I fall, all that padding protects me from getting hurt.”
A volunteer fire fighter for eight years, Alyson has managed to stay active, in spite of her CMT symptoms. Over the years there have been subtle changes affecting her balance causing her to roll her ankles and trip more frequently. She also has the telltale cold and numbness in her hands. While her father and a brother also have CMT, “I guess you could say I was in denial until a couple of years ago, even though I was diagnosed when I was ten,” she confesses. That’s when Alyson and Jim decided to run a half marathon for her birthday. During training Alyson’s legs hurt and her feet felt hot and painful. Part way through the marathon the pain was so severe Alyson had to stop to rock on her heels. But, she persisted and finished! “After the half marathon, I was so sad that it took me a long time to reach the finish line, I went online and read about CMT and thought, ‘that describes me.’” That didn’t stop her from continuing to run in 5k and 10k races. Since then Alyson has been able to correlate the effects of eating a healthy diet on her CMT symptoms. “When I eat a basic diet of meat, vegetables and fruit, my symptoms aren’t as severe. I try to stay away from processed food and sweets.” It isn’t always easy. “The other day I really wanted to have a cola. I figured what would one cola do? The next day my hands and feet cramped up. It was so painful.”
Running provides a respite from the frustration of having CMT. “Sometimes I’m angry that I have it. A few weeks ago, I was in a funk, feeling bad for myself. After a couple of days, I said to myself ‘run, do what you can.’ Soon I was feeling thankful that I can run.” Part of Alyson’s coping strategy is to adjust her goals. She no longer concerns herself with the amount of time a run will take. She concentrates on doing the best she can on any given day with a goal to just run.
Increasing awareness about CMT is important to Alyson. She contacted Chris Wodke, Founder and Manager of Team CMT. As one of Team CMT’s newest members, Alyson is looking forward to her next two races: the Lowell, Oregon 5k at the end of July and the Great Columbia Crossing 10k in Astoria. Following those races, Alyson plans to start training for qualification in the Boston Marathon – her first. Team CMT and Chris Wodke will support and cheer her on.