Oftentimes, significant life struggles – like an ALS diagnosis – bring about a reassessment and shift in perspective. For Don, living with ALS means readjusting his physical goals, but his attitude about life is the same as it has always been. He calls it “PMA” (positive mental attitude), a term that embodies Don’s optimism.

Don has been an avid runner and fitness enthusiast his entire life. He has completed 16 marathons, including three successful runs in the famed Boston Marathon. His cumulative mileage has seen him circle the circumference of the world (40,076 kilometres)! He was on his way back “home” when ALS threw him an untimely speed bump.

As far back as 1976, Don made himself a promise to stay in shape by including at least one physical activity in his daily routine. For a long time, he focused on running and weight-lifting, but in later years, he joined yoga, Pilates, spinning and stretching classes to stay flexible and to reduce the wear and tear on his body from the long-distance running. In his words, his body “craves exercise like an addiction.”

Since his diagnosis in early 2016, Don has stopped running. He was able to walk in last year’s WALK for ALS, but this year, he says, he will see how things go. Most likely, he will walk with the aid of his walker for some of the time and enjoy the rest of the time being pushed by his partner, Pam, in his transport wheelchair. His attitude is, “I will listen to my body and do what it allows me to do that day.” He is being careful, but he is not giving up on the pledge he made 41 years ago.

Don still adheres to his daily exercise routine and he is focused on his diet to both nourish and detoxify his body. He knows how to readjust his expectations. As he says, “before ALS, if I suffered an injury that prevented me from running, I would focus on my upper body, or modify my cardio routine through walking, spinning, or swimming.” Nowadays, that means compensating for his weak right side, and, in his words, “knowing when a trip to the gym requires too much risk, such as in the pouring rain or during a snowstorm.” That’s when he positions himself directly in front of his recliner chair (accessed through the ALS Canada equipment program) and lifts weights at home, knowing that if he loses his balance he will fall backwards into the chair, but not letting that stop him from trying.

Don will say that ALS has been a hard wake-up call. He says jokingly that he has a propensity to fall on any day of the week that ends in “day.” Relying on his life partner, friends and family to help him with tasks he used to do with his eyes closed is something Don accepts. He is just grateful to have the support of all these “peeps” around him.

On a practical level, Don acknowledges the tremendous importance of the equipment he has accessed through the ALS Canada equipment program, items such as a tub transfer bench to help with bathing, a walker, a hospital bed and a toilet commode. In his candid way, he explains how amazing this toilet aid can be, when a simple task like getting up off of the toilet and moving only 3 feet to get to the sink vanity can seem impossible.

Don is living for today. His motto is, “Focus on what I can do, not what I can no longer do.” Don knows what the future looks like. For him, it’s an incentive to live in the moment, to be grateful for what he has today. His yoga instructor used to ask the students to thank each part of their body before beginning the practise. It may be hard for Don to love his toe drag foot, or the weakened right side of his body, but he says he sometimes sits in front of the mirror and does so anyway. “Visualizing crossing the finish line was always a great motivator,” he says. Now he uses visualization to imagine staying well, and maintaining his strength and mobility as much as possible.

During the month of June for ALS Awareness Month, we will be sharing the stories of people living with and affected by ALS who have chosen to seize each day in whatever way they can. You can also share your own stories and reflections on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and hashtag #SeizeTodayALS.

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