Group helps MS patients see 'impairments don't matter'

MS patients were in Tukwila at the iFLY indoor skydiving center.{ } (Photo: KOMO News)

TUKWILA, Wash. -- The Seattle area has a particularly high number of multiple sclerosis patients. No one knows why, but the condition is more prevalent in the northern hemisphere, and Seattle is a hot spot. The condition can cause muscle weakness, pain and fatigue.

"We kind of put ourselves into these boxes, shelter ourselves," said MS patient Jennifer Blakey.

But on this day, Blakey and a couple dozen other MS patients are in Tukwila at the iFLY indoor skydiving center.

"That's kind of my attitude. I have MS, but MS don't have me," Ron Johnson said before gearing up with a flight suit and goggles.

The 30 patients have a range of symptoms and abilities. But when they step into the chamber, they are all first time fliers. It is exhilarating.

This outing was organized by the Swedish MS Center. They've also gone biking and boating. They get into the mountains for hiking and skiing.

Simon Gale is an occupational therapist who also holds the title of adventure coordinator for the Swedish MS Center. "I find it terribly important," Gale said of the outings. "It's been really humbling for me to just meet these folks who want to do thing,s and we can help open that door. Some of them unfortunately let their horizons shrink a little bit because of disability or anxiety of how they look in public. When it's a whole group of 30 people with varying impairments, those impairments don't matter anymore."

"It kind of can make your world feel smaller," said Blakey of her MS diagnosis.

"You feel like a prisoner," added Jennifer Becker-Covert.

"Yeah, you can kind of lock yourself in," Blakey said. "This kind of thing gets you out there, gets you experiencing new things, meeting new people, seeing old friends and doing really wicked, awesome things like flying!"

Johnson was first diagnosed with MS two decades ago. Two years ago he started using his wheelchair because he struggles to walk, But on this day, he was weightless.

"It was really nice to feel that way. I could fly!" he said.

MS patients do not need to be treated at Swedish to join the adventure group. All the outings are either free or at a reduced price, supported by donors.

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