A foot soldier focused on the feat
An endurance walking event in Fort Collins this weekend that’s designed for participants to share some of the physical struggles experienced by those afflicted with multiple sclerosis, if only temporarily, has served as a form of therapy for a local woman who suffers from MS.
Diagnosed with the incurable, deadly disease four years ago, Summer Weisel of Silt said she was advised by her therapist at one point shortly thereafter to “reinvent myself.”
An accomplished bronze sculptor and past Glenwood Springs Fall Art Festival People’s Choice winner, Weisel wasn’t sure how to interpret that.
“It really threw me into a tailspin,” she said. “I’m 50 now, and sculpture has been my passion all my life.
“It was really hard, but what I’m doing now is part of my reinvention, and I feel like I’m succeeding at reinventing myself,” Weisel says today.
What she does is walk – lots of walking.
So much, in fact, that this weekend she’ll be walking a total of 50 miles over the course of three days in her second Wild West MS Walkabout in Fort Collins.
The grassroots event raises money through the Center for Neurorehabilitation Services (CNS) Foundation, providing grants of up to $1,000 for people with MS to help them obtain necessary treatment and services.
“MS is not only an emotionally, but a financially bankrupting diagnosis,” Weisel said.
In addition to the need for medical support to obtain treatment for the debilitating symptoms that come with MS, patients can also benefit from any emotional support they can find.
For Weisel, she found support through the Jimmie Heuga Center in Avon, which has what’s called the Can-Do Program to help people cope with MS. Heuga, a noted ski racer from Vail, died earlier this year as a result of complications from MS.
Through her involvement with the Can-Do Program, Weisel said she was empowered to seek out her new self.
After her diagnosis, she also started doing the annual MS 5K Walk in Glenwood Springs organized by the National MS Society. But it was through a friend that she was inspired by the story of another woman who had become a marathon walker.
“I decided I wanted to do that myself, so I trained and did my first marathon,” she said of a two-day, 28-mile marathon walk around Lake Dillon, which served as a fundraiser for breast cancer research.
Then, last year, she learned about the Wild West Walkabout for MS, and she and her husband, Alan Weisel, began training for the 50-mile walk, which they completed. The walk takes place over three days, including 20 miles each the first two days and 10 miles on the final day.
Over the last seven weeks they’ve put in 160 miles and raised $3,900 in preparation for this weekend’s fifth annual event, which takes place along the extensive trails and parkways of Fort Collins.
The Weisel’s are a regular sight walking along the country roads on Silt Mesa near their home, and out on the Glenwood Canyon Bike Path. She uses Nordic walking poles to keep her steady and help her walk in a straight line, and takes occasional dips in the river to keep cool, since MS patients can be very sensitive to heat.
“It’s really changed my focus on what I can do, and helped me get out of my funk,” Summer Weisel said of her walking therapy. “And, exercise is critical in helping me to stay free of the symptoms.”
She tells a story from this past weekend when she and her husband walked from No Name to Grizzly Creek, where they had left a small rubber raft for them to float back down the Colorado River to No Name.
“I was sitting cross-legged on this little raft going down the river, and I could hear the air slowly leaking out … and I thought, ‘this is an analogy for my life,'” she said.
“I never said, ‘why me?'” Weisel said of her diagnosis four years ago. “I just said, ‘what now?'”
Weisel herself is a recipient of one of the grants that the Wild West Walkabout raises money for, and will use it to attend a Challenge Aspen snowboarding program this coming winter.
“I used to be an avid snowboarder, and I just wanted to be able to go snowboarding with my grandkids,” she said.
The Weisel’s have lived in the area since 1977, raising three daughters here. They now have seven grandchildren, all under age 7.
The Wild West Walkabout has a fundraising goal this year of $122,000, and so far has raised about $50,000. For more information about the event, visit http://www.wwmsw.org.
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Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon will continue to be closed due to “extreme damage” from the latest round of heavy rain and flooding Saturday night, the Colorado Department of Transportation announced Sunday afternoon.