Monday, June 16, 2008

MS Can't Stop Bodybuilder

MS can't stop bodybuilder
Aiming for berth at world championships

Felstead, who suffers from MS, will compete in his third Canadian Bodybuilding Federation world qualifier. BRIAN DONOGH/SUN MEDIA
When you look at that picture of bodybuilder Brent Felstead, one of the last things that would pop into your mind is multiple sclerosis.

He's ripped. He's athletic. He's healthy.

He has MS.

"That's partly why I don't mind sharing the story," the 42-year-old Ottawa native said yesterday. "Hopefully other people get the hint. There's lots of people out there who come to me and say, 'Once I got diagnosed I basically gave up on everything.' That does not have to be the case. I haven't given up anything."

He certainly has not. In fact, he will compete in his third Canadian Bodybuilding Federation world qualifier tomorrow at Winnipeg's Prairie Exchange Theatre. The top finisher in each weight class will earn a berth in the world championships in Bahrain this November.

If Felstead can win his division tomorrow, it would cap a remarkable comeback that started the day he was diagnosed: Oct. 29, 1999.

"That was probably the scariest portion of my life," he said. "At that time I was almost completely paralysed in my right leg. I was partially blind in my left eye, and I lost almost all the feeling through my torso."

Felstead, who started bodybuilding in 1995, stopped training for only two weeks after being diagnosed with relapsing-remitting MS, which is the most common form of the disease. Between 2000 and 2003 he had one or two attacks a year, but they would sometimes last for months and often wiped away the muscle in the affected areas of his body.

To make sure his recovery from an attack was consistent, he would, for instance, work out his afflicted right leg as much as he could and then do the same number of reps with his healthy left.
The attacks, however, started striking with more frequency in 2004. In addition, his job with the Department of National Defence became more hectic. He had less time to work out, and it was taking a toll on his body.

"Basically I was losing ground," he said. "I was down to 160 pounds and was not nearly as muscular as I had been."

Then, in 2006, he made a decision that changed everything. He switched medication, injecting himself with Rebif three times a week, and hasn't suffered an attack since. So instead of having to constantly rebuild his muscles, he's been able to shape them for competitions like tomorrow's national championship.

More importantly, it's kept him in tremendous shape while battling a disease that can be debilitating if you allow it.

"By constantly challenging myself, by making myself do these competitions, I'm constantly making it essential for me to keep up that level of training," he said.

The physical effects Felstead experiences these days are a slight limp, and constant pain and numbness in his left hand. When his opponents see him limp, they ask him how he hurt himself training. Their initial reaction is disbelief when he tells them the truth.

To Felstead, it's just his life. He has a full-time job, two kids and a passion for bodybuilding.
"I don't allow it to limit me," he said. "That's always been my goal since diagnosis, to make sure that it interferes with your life as little as possible.

"I've done all right, and a lot of it is thanks to not giving up and keeping at it."

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