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March 02, 2016

Fierce Flyer Heather Jeff: Living with MS

Heather Stephens

We have been honored by all of our Fierce Flyers on the Volée. Three of our teammates, Portia O'Callaghan, Laura Collins, and now Heather Jeff, have been gracious enough to share their stories on being an athlete with MS. 

When Heather Jeff was diagnosed with MS, her whole world changed and her perspective grew. She stopped wasting time waiting for tomorrow and has become much more appreciative of the moment that she is in right now. MS is a part of Heather's story, but it’s not her whole story. Read more from Heather about her journey and beautiful outlook on life.


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Growing up, I was not a risk taker nor was I a leader or a change agent. Those were the people I tended to gravitate toward but I was a Pip, never Gladys Knight. As a kid I was easy going, I did not work too hard, but made sure I had a ton of fun. Fourteen years ago, I was newly married, young, and full of big plans. When I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis fear stepped firmly into my world. Like other big life events I can clearly picture the day my doctor told me I had MS. I vividly remember small details of that day, what I wore, the exam room, where I was sitting; I also can remember the distinct feeling of losing control over my own body. I pictured illness, weakness, and dependence on others. Dramatic? Sure, but this disease is a bit unpredictable.

MS provided me with a choice, I could adopt the label of “sick person” as my new identity or I could fight like hell to stay strong, healthy, and vibrant. I opted to fight and not give MS one ounce of power in my life. I began to put myself out there, l saw myself as a “real” runner, I joined a triathlon team, I joined the Volée, I dared to see myself for what I am: strong, brave, and a fighter. MS threatened to take everything away but what it gave me was my voice.

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Last winter during a visit with my neurologist, Dr. Crayton, I asked what is the hardest part of her job and her answer surprised me. She said it was not saying the words, “you have MS” but not having an example of what it looks like to live with MS. This answer took hold in me and I spent many miles considering what I could do to address this void.

When I was newly diagnosed I turned to the Internet and the scenes I found there fed my fear. All of these years later the message is unchanged: you are less than, hang it up and prepare for the worst. That message is unacceptable and simply untrue. MS affects each person differently but each one of us has the choice to keep toeing the start line, to keep our health a priority, to live with MS and not let it, or anything else, define your story.

The spark to create the film Living, With MS originated from that conversation with my doctor and has led me to meet other athletes also living with MS. This was a first for me, I never knew anyone else with MS doing the activities that I love to do. Knowing Kate, Theresa, and Chris fills me with hope and gratitude. There are so many more people out there in this club just waiting to share their own story, to change the conversation of what living with MS looks like.

At this point in my life I look to align myself with those that I believe in, who share their truth and live with integrity and purpose. To me, Oiselle embodies these characteristics. A couple of years ago I stumbled upon ALF and was blown away. Who is this woman, sharing truth that is not varnished or curated? It was a breath of fresh air. This summer, joining the Volée was a priority and just like that, I hopped on to my laptop and threw my name into the hat. Being part of this community fills me with bravery that is not only my own but all of ours. Head up, wings out!

- Heather Jeff 

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