Local Lifestyle

Tuesday, Oct 02 2012 05:26 PM

HERB BENHAM: Mother takes on MS with bare knuckles

By The Bakersfield Californian

Toni Colvin doesn't look like someone battling a disorder that robs some people of their mobility.That's good and bad.

Good because she can do everything she wants to do, including being the nursery sales specialist at Lowe's in Rosedale, bike, sail, walk, rock-climb, backpack, scramble up a 65-foot mast on her brother's sailboat and bake artisan bread.

Bad because when she feels whacked -- summers are challenging -- it may be hard for people to understand she has multiple sclerosis.

"When it gets hot, I can feel myself slowing down," she said.

This is not a pity-me story. Colvin is not trolling for sympathy. No, she feels lucky.

"My first MS meeting, I realized how fortunate I was. People came in with canes, walkers and wheelchairs," she said.

"I've visited a young mother in a care facility who can no longer live at home with her family because she has lost so much of her physical ability. My life has minimal limitations. I feel it's my responsibility to help the MS community as much as I am able."

She's ready, able and willing. In addition to completing one or two half-marathons a year and raising $3,000 in a 100-mile bike challenge in San Diego, Colvin has become the go-to person for the local chapter of the National MS Society and its director, Kim Kotrla.

"Last year Kim asked if I would talk to a woman recently diagnosed with MS," said Colvin, who received her own diagnosis six years ago.

"She had been doing a morning boot camp weight loss program and ran 5Ks, when she suddenly lost the vision in one eye. She was heartbroken at being told she might not be able to run."

Colvin met her at Beach Park and asked if she could still run. Yes. Keep running then, Colvin said.

"Don't assume you have limits until you run into them," Colvin said. "Plan for the 'what ifs' but don't plan on them happening."

Multiple sclerosis is a chronic, often disabling disease that attacks the central nervous system. Symptoms range from numbness in the limbs to paralysis or loss of vision.

Colvin, 57, had her first episode in 1995 but wasn't diagnosed until years later. Her hearing and vision had gotten blurry, but the doctor thought it was menopause. A brain scan discovered lesions, an indicator of MS.

"I was not able to ride a bike for about two years prior to my final diagnosis and it took 18 months after treatment started for me to try it again," she said.

In some ways, treatment and recovery started at work.

"Lowe's has this program to encourage people to become more active by helping them track how many steps they take," Colvin said. "I started wearing a pedometer and during the busy spring season, I was frequently walking 12 miles a day."

Friends, one of whom had a sister with MS, were walking a half marathon with the Bakersfield Track Club. They asked Colvin if she was in.

"When?" Colvin asked.

"Saturday, four days from now," she was told.

Colvin did it, and three months later walked another half marathon. But that aggressive approach reflects how Colvin has dealt with MS, and sometimes with her doctors.

"A neuro asked me how I was able to lower my blood pressure. I looked her straight in the eye and said 'because now I know the face of my enemy.'"

Colvin's not stupid. She follows her doctor's advice, including a daily regimen of Copaxone, eats healthy, gets plenty of rest, stays active and tries not to get overheated.

"When it gets hot, it helps to have a cold kerchief on your neck," she said. "I've discovered a new product called the IceTee, a cooling shirt fitted with cooling gel packs."

Colvin is from Bakersfield and taught science at an after-school program for Bakersfield City School District before beginning her full-time job at Lowe's 81/2 years ago. She is married to Lane, a retired AT&T technician, has two daughters and a son -- Gina Jay, Monica Standley and Michael Covey -- and two border collies.

There was no history of MS in Colvin's family before her diagnosis.

"This year my world was tilted off-axis when Gina Jay, who lives in Alaska, was diagnosed with MS," Colvin said.

"MS has impacted her. She is a marathon runner who can no longer run and a black belt in Taekwondo with balance issues. If I could, I'd trade places with her in a minute. What I can do is try to help the National MS Society find a cure for MS."

Colvin feels lucky and wants to fight for those who are not so lucky. Those people include her daughter.


On Saturday and Sunday, Colvin is riding the Bike MS Coastal Challenge, a two-day bike ride and fundraiser. Money goes to services, financial assistance and programs for people with MS in Kern County. Upcoming programs include "Living Well," "Free from Falls," "Optimal Living" and weekly personal fitness classes for women with MS at Total Woman from September to June.

Interested sponsors may contact Colvin (who is fielding a squad called Team Mighty Striders) at teammightystriders@gmail.com or visit main.nationalmssociety.org/site.

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