SHOULDER TO SHOULDER?Walter and Davinia Cox.?Pic: Michael McLaughlin
Running the journey together
Davinia Cox was diagnosed with MS at just 31. Now, her husband will run the Connemara Ultra Marathon for MS Ireland.
IN August 2010, Walter and Davinia Cox went to Paris to celebrate ten happy years of marriage together. Their life seemed to be perfect. They had built a new house in Kilmeena, had two young children, Harriet and Tom, and had dreams of travelling the world when the children were reared and the bills were paid.
It was in Paris, while visiting the beautiful Sacré-Coeur Basilica, that Davinia noticed something was amiss – and it would blow their world apart.
“We were coming down the steps and they were swimming. I couldn’t see where I was going,” Davinia explained. “I thought I had overdone it and got vertigo or something. I got to the bottom – but I was tired.”
When they got home, Davinia had no energy and struggled with everyday jobs. She suffered bouts of double vision. When she typed the symptoms into Google, the words ‘Multiple Sclerosis’ kept coming up. She had never heard of it. She didn’t know anyone who had it. She could not have it.
That September, her worst fears were realised when a consultant neurologist in Galway confirmed a diagnosis of MS.
A disease of the brain and spinal cord, MS affects the nerves that send messages to various parts of the body. Most healthy fibres are insulated by myelin, a fatty substance which aids the flow of messages. In MS, the myelin breaks down or becomes scarred, and this distorts or even blocks the flow of messages, causing the many symptoms associated with MS.
MS sufferers are affected in so many different ways. Meeting Lancashire-born Davinia for the first time, you would not know she has any sort of illness.
“I have a very aggressive form, but I’m not affected physically. It’s more sensory, pain and fatigue … If I stop talking and stay still everything buzzes. I have a constant pain in my back, pain in my leg, my hands go really numb, and there are times if I pick up a cup I drop it. I could fall asleep sitting at the table, helping Tom or Hatty with their homework. It has happened to me a few times. Hatty would go, ‘Daddy, Daddy, come and check Mummy’.”
Davinia readily admits that they did not cope very well with the diagnosis at first and went into a sort of denial. “It was like a bomb had gone off in the hallway and we were just walking around it all the time trying to avoid it and not let it impact everything else. It was horrible. It sounds dramatic but there were many nights Walter would wake up and I’d be crying my eyes out, or I’d wake up and he’d be sitting on the side of the bed with his head in his hands. You just did not know what to do.
“You have to change your lifestyle, but in that first year I did everything the same. I didn’t listen to the doctor. I carried on regardless. I should have listened when he told me to slow down. I fought through it. I said ‘Sod this, I’m 31’. I had a baby to look after.”
The treatment Davinia was on did not work, and she suffered a major relapse. This meant she was put on a new regime, which involved monthly infusions in Merlin Park Hospital in Galway. It was a huge wake-up call to Davinia and Walter, and they had to adjust their lives.
WHEN Davinia was diagnosed, Walter was going through his own journey in life. He had had an operation to repair a long-term knee injury and was hobbling around on crutches. He was 16 stone, lethargic and did not have the energy to look after his wife and children. Something had to change.
He was convinced to take part in the first Carrowholly 5k in January 2012 – something he could not have conceived doing a year before. He ran it, and he felt amazing after crossing the finishing line. He had found a new passion in life.
During the following year’s Carrowholly 5k, he heard a pop in his other knee, but he ran on regardless. His knee swelled up ‘like a melon’ and he needed another operation. He was told to stop running.
Walter took up cycling instead, but he did not enjoy it as much. He decided not to heed medical advice, and he ditched the bike.
With two new knees, Walter was thinking big. He ran the Belfast marathon in May 2014 and last October, he ran the Dublin Marathon. The latter was not a success. He finished half an hour slower despite wanting to break his best time.
He evaluated the situation and realised he was never going to win races, but knew he loved running for enjoyment. At 37, he has now set his eyes on something different: the Connemara Ultra Marathon.
The race, which takes place on April 12, involves running a gruelling 39.3 miles. Walter’s training involves running a half-marathon a week. A random run could involve distances between 20 and 30 miles.
“It might seem extreme lengths to go to but it’s what I enjoy. I love it. Every time I go out I doubt I can do it, but I have never got to the point where I said I’ve had enough. It’s hard but I’m always in great humour when I come back.”
The main reason Walter is taking part in the Ultra Marathon is to raise money for the south Mayo branch of MS Ireland. Walter admits that he feels ‘totally helpless’ at times when things are bad with Davinia.
Is running is a coping mechanism? Walter’s not sure. “You read things about runners and they say they’re either running away from something or running towards something. I don’t know … I would be lying if I said it doesn’t help, but I wouldn’t say it’s the reason I do it. It gives you time to think and reason things.”
When Davinia was first diagnosed she could not cope with the coffee mornings organised by MS Ireland because, she said, the sight of people in wheelchairs ‘scared the hell out of me’. However, after her relapse, she turned to MS Ireland for help and support and now enjoys their coffee mornings.
“It is great for finding out things like where you stand with car insurance, little practical things that you have nobody else to ask. You can also go and have a moan, and everybody in the room understands what you are on about. MS Ireland are a great help.”
As they look forward to the future, both Walter and Davinia are looking on the bright side. They are grateful for the support they receive, especially from Walter’s parents, who live next door and who they call ‘our rock’.
“I don’t think about cures I just think about the here and now,” said Davinia. “You can waste time thinking ‘I wish they could find a cure’. There might never be one in my lifetime. It makes you more aware of the here, and now you appreciate things better. Yesterday, we spent all day in the garden plotting about house colours and chickens. You just think, enjoy the day and be grateful for where you are and what you have.”
To support Walter and MS Ireland you can donate by visiting www.justgiving.com/alterCox-MSIreland.