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What Being a Sports Fan Taught Me about MS

By Matt Cavallo

I grew up in a sports family. We lived in a small town about 18 miles south of Boston. From a young age, I was taught to root for the home team no matter the result. When I was growing up, other than the Celtics, most of the Boston teams were horrible. Even the Patriots, who many of you now despise because of their recent success, were the laughing stock of the NFL. In fact, during my sophomore year in high school, the Patriots went 1-15 to finish as the worst team in football that year. No matter how bad they were year-in and year-out, though, we still had hope that they would win.

In many ways, my journey as a sports fan is like my journey with MS. When you play or watch sports you are accustomed to hearing phrases such as “it is a marathon and not a sprint.” Nothing could be truer than being diagnosed with MS. MS is marathon. Once diagnosed, you try to maintain a steady pace but must get over Heartbreak Hill. For those of you not from Boston area, that is the hill on mile 20 of the Boston marathon that has ended many a marathoner’s quest to finish the face. The other important lesson about the marathon is that you may not have the strength of your legs below you, but it is your will and your determination that will carry you to the finish line.

With MS, there are no practice or game days. The will to win isn’t out there on the court. It is within you. If I take a day off from riding my bike because I am fatigued and don’t feel like putting in the work, I don’t have a coach screaming in my ear to get out there and do it. A good professional athlete puts in the hard work when the coach is watching. A great professional athlete puts in work when the coach isn’t around. I know that with my MS if I start to take days off, then when I want to go out and ride my bike it is a lot harder. So, I try to muster that same strength that a marathoner has to beat Heartbreak Hill every day to push myself to stay active.

I don’t always win, but like another famous sports quote, “I live to play another day.” Not every day will be a victory with MS. That’s okay. I always tell my kids that you either win or you learn. With MS, I do a whole lot of learning. But like my favorite sports teams, I have always held onto hope.  I have been rewarded during the past two decades as a fan with a pretty good championship run, not only for the Patriots, but all my Boston teams. If I had given up hope during all those losing seasons in my youth, then those championships would not be so sweet.

When my dad and I talk, he attributes my attitude towards MS to how I played team sports growing up. I would practice hard, listen to the coach, and try my hardest to beat my opponent. Those lessons carried with me into living with MS, but now my coach is my neurologist and MS is the opponent. 

For me, an MS championship is every MRI that shows no new lesions, or every year that I am exacerbation free. Every time a promising treatment hits the market, it is like a promising draft pick with a ton of potential. I respect my opponent, but I have hope and belief in my team that together we will beat this.