MS Can't Stop These Elite Athletes

While there’s no tried and true formula for creating an outstanding athlete, they all have certain qualities in common: a positive attitude, an overwhelming desire to triumph, and an unwillingness to let anything stand in their way. So it’s no surprise that two athletes tackled their multiple sclerosis (MS) diagnoses with the same determination.

At first glance, Demitrius Omphroy and Jeff Segal would appear to have very little in common. Omphroy is a young soccer player in his 20s who lives in Alameda, Calif., and Segal is a father and personal trainer in his early 40s in Boca Raton, Fla. Despite having almost two decades and an entire continent between them, Omphroy and Segal — both diagnosed with MS — share the mindset of true athletes who are determined not to let MS win.

No matter the hurdles that come with the disease, these athletes have achieved impressive success. For them, staying active and living healthy isn’t an option, it’s a way of life.

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Demitrius Omphroy: A Winning Mentality

Soccer has always been the driving passion in Omphroy’s life. After his junior year of high school he spent a year in Portugal training with the prestigious Sporting Clube de Portugal Juniores where he honed his talents.

He so impressed the coaches that he was guaranteed a contract to play professionally once he turned 18, but on his 18th birthday he suffered his first bout of optic neuritis. His pro career hit a speed bump.

He admits he had fears and worries when he was diagnosed, but he’s no quitter. “For soccer we only have a short amount of time to play,” Omphroy pointed out in an interview with Healthline, “and I wanted to make sure I did everything I possibly could to take advantage of the opportunity.”

He went on to make Major League Soccer history as the first player with MS.

Omphroy said that he sees MS as another of life’s challenges, “and when there’s a roadblock [athletes don’t] back down but try to see how we can get over it.” Most important for him was figuring out how to stay active and still play the game.

His fame as an athlete propelled him into the spotlight and he uses it to raise MS awareness. He wants others to know that it’s possible to achieve their goals while living with MS. Determination is key.

Jeff Segal: Focus on the Positive

Jeff Segal is a personal fitness trainer who works mainly with people who have MS. Diagnosed in 1998, he spent much of the next couple of years in a wheelchair reeling from the disease. But, with an athlete’s attitude, Segal refused to give in. Instead he fought back, launching his own wellness and rehabilitation program, Balanced Personal Training, Inc. He has since won awards including Fitness Institute International Personal Trainer of the Year in 2007.

He tailors his training to the individual, enhancing their strong points and working around what MS may have robbed from them.

“When I start out with people,” Segal said about his training style in an interview with Healthline, “I ask them a bunch of questions,” to determine what they perceive are things they either can or can’t do. He often surprises his client, proving they are capable of a lot more than they think, which helps builds their confidence.

Segal said that people with MS tend to underestimate their own capabilities or are hesitant to try, fearing they will overdo it.

“Doctors tell everybody you need to get at least 30 minutes of exercise a day,” he said, “but if you don’t think it’s possible then shoot for 10. If you can do 10, then next time see if you can do a little more, and build it up that way.”

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Both Athletes Inspiring Others

Omphroy and Segal are both part of the patient speaker’s bureau for Teva Neuroscience. They travel the country sharing their motivational stories of success with the public. Not only are they trying to live their own lives to the fullest despite MS, they are bringing their positive messages to others.

Their stories share a common thread: anything is possible if you approach it with a positive attitude.

“If you’ve lost the use of one of your legs,” Segal explained, “and then all you do is focus on that loss, the rest of your body suffers for it.” It’s all about attitude.

Omphroy agreed: “With MS you can’t control the disease and what happens with it,” he said, “but you can control how you respond to it.”

Spoken like a true athlete.

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