Running – On June 16, 2001 in Anzio, Italy, I ran my morning jog – 9 blocks from my house to the beach and back, with my golden retriever Scott. I started to feel a strange sensation taking over my body. Instead of Scott running along my side, I felt like I was carrying him on my shoulders. As we reached the slight grade of the last 2 blocks to my house, I had to stop. I felt like I was losing my balance and my body wanted to veer to the left, even though I was trying to walk straight. I remember Scott looking at me funny as if he was thinking, “What is wrong with you”? Slowly we made it home. I opened the gate and walked into the back yard. I decided to do some stretching and thought maybe I felt this way due to the heat! As soon as I reached back to pull my leg up, I fell to the ground, I just lost my balance. I felt like I had a ton of bricks pushing down on my shoulders and I couldn’t stand up. Then I tried to get up using my right arm, I pushed and pushed but my arm just didn’t work anymore – it just wouldn’t move. Now I was wondering what is happening to me? I was home by myself at the time so I decided to try my left arm and thank God it worked! I then got myself up and made it into my house. I called my wife, who was working in Rome at the time and told her what happened. We decided to go see a doctor right away that evening. Our family doctor, who went to high school with Mimma, had me do some tests in the office and he recommended that I have an electroencephalogram or (EEG) done right away. An EEG is a test that detects electrical activity in your brain. I saw the look on his face and Mimma’s face and they sure didn’t make me feel good. The next day I had the EEG done at the hospital and the doctor told me I need to get an MRI done ASAP. I said to myself she had to make a mistake, me an ex baseball player and Olympian has something wrong with my brain?? Next stop was an MRI at the hospital. The appointment was 2 weeks after the EEG. The doctor told me that there were some white spots in my brain and I should make an appointment with a neurologist. At this time, we were in the month of July and it was hard to find a neurologist available, all of Italy was getting ready to go on vacation. Mimma and I decided to head up the mountains – maybe the cooler air would make me feel better. What kept going through my mind was what the hell is wrong with me? Meanwhile, I noticed that when I would shave in the morning, my right arm was not going where it was supposed to go. It seemed like it would just go where it wanted to. Another symptom that really bothered me was when I was speaking the words wouldn’t come out or if they did, there would be a delay. We spent the month of July and half of August up in the mountains. I tried running and walking with Scotty to see how I felt but that wasn’t working to well. I remember as soon as I started to run, I felt like someone shot me in my back. I had a burning sensation going from my neck all the way down to my feet. When we got home back in Nettuno, some of the symptoms kind of subsided a little but I knew there was something wrong. I can remember in September the ball of my left foot was numb. I would put it under hot water and I couldn’t feel a thing. From there it started moving up my body and we decided it would be better if I check in to a hospital in Rome to find out what it is. While all this was going on, I was worried of course but I needed to find out what it was so I can confront it as best as I could.
It – what is it? The numbness in my legs got worse to the point that I couldn’t feel anything up to my waist. While in the hospital in Rome, the doctors and nurses did a great job! I was there for 10 days and completed all the tests that they asked me to do. Even when my family doctor spoke to Mimma and after the MRI, it seemed like nobody wanted to tell me what “IT” was! I needed to put a name on this “IT”so I could confront it. So before checking out of the hospital, the Doctor took Mimma and I into his office to talk. That is when I found out what “IT” was, he told us that I have Multiple Sclerosis.
Domenica, that is my wife’s name which means Sunday in Italian. She goes by Mimma which is a common nickname for Domenica. When I found out about my disease, I was the angriest person in the world at that time! I just didn’t really understand the disease and I thought I knew my limits and how far I could go. Can I go farther? I now have a disease that I have to live with and there isn’t a cure. I had doubts and fear inside of me, this was going to be something new, a true unknown. I thought about when you get married and the priest says “to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.” If it wasn’t for Mimma I don’t think I would have got in the right mind set to confront MS. She would try to make me read material about MS but I refused! I would throw the material about MS away into the fireplace. The next day she would start all over again, until one day I sat down and started reading up on this debilitating disease. There are a lot more diseases that are worse than MS, but I couldn’t find anything positive in the material I was reading. I was given some medicine through IVs for a week and took some pills for a month. My symptoms subsided but I could feel inside of me that my body had changed. I am a Christian and believe in the Madonna – Mary the Mother of Jesus. I never prayed so much in my life when I realized that the doctors and the medicine did all they could. I needed some help from “upstairs”! I prayed and prayed just to point me in the right direction! That is all I needed! I would take care of the rest of it! There was no way that I was going to get my life back alone – I would need some help from above!
Evolve – I understand that all of us go through changes that are both good and bad in our lives, but I wasn’t expecting this. I was even mad at God because I always believed that if I try everyday to live a good life, be a good husband, son, uncle and friend, and try to live a healthy life, that I wouldn’t have any problems with my health – but I was wrong. Diseases don’t have a preference; it just happens and most of the time there is no reason why and nobody’s fault. I just had to accept the fact that I have this disease and that is it. My life will be different but that spirit to fight is more alive inside of me now than ever before! That the disease will not take away the things in my life I love! I decided then – ok MS – you chose me – ok then – GAME ON!!!
Today and every day I learned that I must set goals to keep me going. At times, my friends have a hard time understanding the way I am living my life. At times I may do too much and I don’t sleep much. The reason I don’t sleep is that I can’t wait to wake up, open the door and see the light of day, a new day and show the world that I am still walking. My wife gets tired just watching me! She doesn’t even pay attention to me and is never surprised by anything I do anymore! I am still that guy she met in 1983, and after almost a year she gave in and went on a date with me! A year later, we were married !
Or – do we really have a choice?? I am a man of God and when these things happen it is out of our control , just put it in God’s hands. For as long as I can, I will ride to demonstrate that you can fight – fight against the prejudices of those who wanted me to be a submissive patient. Fight against the fear that I will never walk again. Fight against the suffering inflicted by a disease. Continue to fight a battle that you can never totally win.
Today, I am free once more. My medicine is my bicycle. Riding and being happy because before me is an open road and proof that the disease did not beat me. “God only knows what I feel when I’m on my bike, by myself. I feel like the luckiest man on earth. I remember when I couldn’t walk. It’s like getting a second chance at life.”
Five – I was never a cyclist. I will always look at myself as a baseball player, an ex- catcher. After finding out I had Multiple Sclerosis, being an athlete I wanted to find out what limits the disease may have put on my body. I tried to run but that didn’t work. My left leg would stop working and walking just wasn’t enough. Don’t get me wrong, when I got home from the hospital and couldn’t walk, I was just praying to be able to cut the grass. This disease just activated an animal inside of me that wanted to confront and defeat the disease that was in my body. For me, just learning to ride a bike wasn’t enough. I decided to go and do the Paris Brest Paris 1250 Km race with Multiple Sclerosis. There was and still is today an anger inside of me – not towards anyone, but at this disease that has invaded my body. After 18 years and 5 Paris Brest Paris races – I am still riding and not hiding!
If – If you listen to those negative voices in your head or the people that you come in contact with, you will never be able to get up. After 18 years, each day I look at myself why am I different? To this day the biggest factor is this will or desire I have to keep on moving, to keep pushing myself. 4 years ago, my doctor recommended that I start a new treatment for my Multiple Sclerosis and not go and do my 4th Paris Brest Paris. There are a lot of side effects with the new treatment, one is I won’t be able to ride my bike like I am doing now. The data on the treatment that was available really didn’t offer us any guarantees. The doctor said that in 50% of the cases this new treatment would stop the disease. My wife knowing me said what if Tony is in the other 50% and it doesn’t improve his life style or just plainly doesn’t work. The result of not trying the new treatment was that I went to Paris in 2015 and just finished number five in 2019.
No – In my mind, if someone tells me “NO”, I try to think of it as an opportunity to do something different. I try to think that I am surrounded by new opportunities every day, but it’s likely you’re not seeing them. I take a moment to reflect and consider what else is possible for me right now, will it hurt my body? Can I do it?
Inaction – there are no results. So when it comes down to it, you have to take action to achieve your goals. Sometimes you have to face the fear and do it anyway. But most importantly, you have to just take action. “To try at all is to risk failure
but to live we must”
Start – I am passionate about being open to a challenge. But on the other side, there are times that I have to accept the word “NO”, because of the limits the disease has put on my body, It’s not easy. But to find my limits I must “START” a new path, set a new goal, each and every day to challenge myself to see how far I can go.
How – How does one get going? Start Simple. Keep positive people in your life! Keep Good Company. Make more friends with positive attitudes and are motivated people, Keep learning and adapting! Try to see the good in bad situations. Above all – have faith in yourself!