Heather Ward has trouble slowing down.
While studying interior design -- and anyone familiar with art or architecture knows that the major alone is consuming enough -- at Mount Ida College, Ward worked a full-time job as a bookkeeper for Barnes & Noble. She had also been a cheerleader from age 12 in Pop Warner football through high school, when she was team captain.
But a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis at 28 gave Ward no choice but to take a step back. That was 14 years ago as Ward lost feeling in the right side of her body and could not speak clearly. Still, she continued working at Maugel Architects in Boston, where she has ascended to being director of interior architecture in her 16 years at the firm.
Ward, who had participated in Boston's MS Walk before her own diagnosis, found new meaning to the cause while undertaking a personal recovery. In 2013, she transitioned from the MS Walk to MuckFest MS, a Tough Mudder-style obstacle course that raises money for MS research.
There are events in 10 cities nationwide, and the Boston MuckFest lasts two days in April. Participants race through a muddy 5K course complete with rope swinging and other athletic challenges.
"[MuckFest] just seemed like a fun event versus doing a 10K walk, and at the time when we were first introduced to it, I was doing CrossFit with my husband," Ward said. "Then unfortunately, right before the event, I had a relapse."
The relapse forced her to take five months off work and stop driving for three months. She still struggles with speech and memory when under stress.
“My feeling in my hands has not completely come back, so doing things like cooking or even doing my makeup or my hair or taking a shower sometimes is a little difficult," she said.
Nonetheless, Ward toiled through the MuckFest course despite taking some tumbles and having to skip the occasional obstacle. Her team, the "Muckin' A's,” raised more than $8,000 with 40 people last year. Ward and the Muckin' A's tripled their efforts this year by raising $27,000 with a team of 108.
"We were the second-largest team in Boston and the third-largest in the country," Ward said.
Although Ward has made great strides in recovery since her relapse, the 2014 MuckFest still presented the challenge of frigid Boston weather.
Ward said that MuckFest can only be held in April because outdoor spaces are booked in the summer. As a result, contestants must compete through 40-degree, rainy conditions.
"It was so cold out there people were suffering from hypothermia," she said.
Ward specifically recalled, though seemingly fondly, crawling under a tarp over cold, muddy water as AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” blared in the background.
Meanwhile, she's back to working part-time at Maugel and is grateful for the support of her boss, plus her husband and parents. She has personally raised more $100,000 for MS research over the years and set a team goal of $40,000 for next year’s MuckFest.
MS may impede her work and daily habits, but for Ward, it's really just muck in the way.