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North Hills Monthly

Relentless Determination Drives Pittsburgh Runner with Multiple Sclerosis

Jul 30, 2015 01:37PM ● By Jennifer Monahan

Nancy Weiland, John Platt and Dick Woodruff

In 2003, John Platt was a self-described “regular guy” putting in long hours in the corporate world, married with his first child on the way. ‘Regular’ is the last adjective anyone would use to define him today—inspiring, courageous, determined and humble are more accurate.

In 2005, after more than two years with unexplained health challenges, Platt was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). By 2007, he had left the business world, and by 2013, he walked with a cane and spent most of the summer confined to his home because the heat caused his MS to flare up. One complication of Platt’s MS is Uhthoff’s phenomenon, which triggers temporary blindness when his core body temperature rises.

Platt described himself at that time as upset and frustrated, and angry that he had to take high levels of medication to control his symptoms. Then something changed.

That summer, Platt lost a close friend to complications from MS, which spurred him on to action. “I decided to teach my two young daughters what it meant to try to be a little bit better today than I was yesterday,” he explained. “I threw my cane to the side and started walking out of spite. In the beginning, it was simply to show my daughters that we are all faced with challenges, but we try to make the best of them.

John Platt at mile 25 of the Chicago Marathon
“Running was never my thing,” he added. “I’m not an athlete. Fighting MS was the thing.”

Those first months were not easy. Platt walked on a treadmill for 30 minutes at a time, one mile per half-hour. His pace did not deter him. “MS is relentless; it’s progressive and chronic,” he noted. “So I have to be relentless. I continued to push my walking every day. In September of 2013, I moved outside and started going farther. I did my first race in January 2014, a 5K, at a 13-minute pace.”

That achievement alone is impressive. Platt, however, was determined to be relentless. He set out to complete a ‘52 in 52’ journey, challenging himself to complete 52 marathons in 52 weeks—26.2 miles per week, for a year. Throughout 2014, Platt racked up the miles. Along the way, he organized a Walk-a-Thon, where he ran for seven straight hours—finishing 32 miles—to raise awareness about MS. He also completed the Chicago Marathon, and reached his ‘52 in 52’ goal with 1,667 miles.

Because of the disease, Platt’s training regimen is complicated. He explained, “One of my symptoms is vertigo; if I turn my head too quickly, I get dizzy, so I don’t turn my head. I also have to focus when I run because my feet drag; it’s called ‘foot drop.’ For every step I take, I visualize the mark where my foot should hit. The concentration is intense.”

Platt runs at 5:30 a.m. during the summer to take advantage of the coolest part of the day. He runs with ice stuffed in his hat and specialized cooling sleeves and carries ice water with him so that he can drench his body in an attempt to keep his core temperature down while running in heat. “I have fixed nothing,” he stressed. “My 12 symptoms are ever-present. I had 29 doctor appointments last year, and that was a good year.”

Platt’s friend Nancy Weiland, a trustee for the Pennsylvania-Keystone Chapter of the National MS Society, added, “I don’t think people understand that it takes John 20 minutes to get out of bed in the morning. Getting his body mobile, dealing with the pain; there are times his gait is off and he has trouble keeping his body in balance. He does it for us—for people with MS, for those of us who can’t physically do what he’s doing.”

As the journey continues, Platt’s aim has shifted. “I used to stay inside and avoid heat. Now I prepare for it, I manage it, I embrace it,” he explained. “Sometimes I fail. But this is about trying and doing relentlessly.”

And it’s not just about his daughters anymore. Platt’s next goal is to complete the New York City Marathon in November. He is running to raise funds for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, in honor of four friends with MS who have inspired him—Nancy Weiland, Dick Woodruff, Eliz Martin and Deb Tafelski, who passed away in April due to complications of the disease. To date, he has raised approximately $1,900 for the charity, which is the largest organization to provide funds directly to those living with the disease.

“I picked the New York Marathon, because it’s the largest, and it gives me a chance to raise awareness,” he explained. “Through this whole process, the MS community has supported me. The lesson is bigger than MS, though. Everyone will face adversity in their lives. How we embrace that adversity creates an amazing journey.”

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