Jenn Cherrey was 23 when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Although Cherrey was a sprinter in her youth, she became less active in her late teens and early 20s. Cherrey admits after her diagnosis, she was not quick to make healthier decisions.
"When I found out I had MS, I probably did the exact opposite of being fit," Cherrey says. "I did all the wrong things."
Cherrey, now 41, turned things around about four years ago. She stopped smoking on her 37th birthday, June 17, 2010 (she started smoking at age 14), and went for her first "serious" run that morning. Along with running, Cherry started biking and willed herself into shape.
"For me, being active, especially having running in my life, has been a way for me to kick MS in the shins a little bit," she says. "I keep doing what I want to do and what I like to do. I can keep my body strong, so it doesn't fail me as much as it should."
Cherrey, who works in compliance for Credit Suisse, has run seven marathons, along with several long distance races. Her fastest marathon time of 4:40:02 came at the New Jersey Marathon. Cherrey has two more upcoming marathons and a triathlon on her schedule. The Annapolis, Md., resident also has a history of long-distance bike rides, including the recent Bike MS: Chesapeake Challenge. For the two-day ride, Cherrey did a metric century (day one) and a 50-mile trek (day two).
"I don't have any race wins, but for me, finishing is a pretty big accomplishment," she says of her ironwoman history.
Outside of work and racing, Cherrey gets paddle boarding/yoga instruction from Kate Grove. The classes consist of about an hour of paddleboarding involving such techniques as how to stand up, how to move, how to get across waves and how to turn. For the last half hour, Grove gives the students yoga instruction on paddleboards.
"It works your core more than yoga because you have to use all your core strength to stay balanced," Cherrey says. "Balance is one of the things affected by MS. We do a lot of planks and stuff to strengthen while you're on the board."
Along with trouble balancing, Cherrey notes MS affects her ability to walk in a straight line and causes her foot to drop unexpectedly. Cherrey also has trouble running in heat.
Biking is one of the easier exercises on Cherrey's body due to the built-in seat and breeze. While Cherrey's muscles are challenged, the wind cools her body off.
Cherrey also finds a cooling aspect in paddleboarding.
"If I fall in the water, it's kind of a nice way to cool my body down," she says. "There's a downside to having trouble balancing, but the water's a nice break during the workout."
When Cherrey was married this May in Oxford, Md., she and her partner Jen Bornemann (yep, that's right, Jenn and Jen) did not ask for gifts. Instead, the couple asked for donations. Guests could donate to their choice of three organizations: The Girls on the Run of the Greater Chesapeake, the Challenged Athletes Foundation and the National MS Society. Cherrey and Bornemann also hosted a "Wedding 5K+1 Run" (with T-shirts made) to highlight the charities. The wedding raised $1500 for the Challenged Athletes Foundation, $1650 for Girls on the Run of the Greater Chesapeake, and almost $6000 for the National MS Society Maryland Chapter.
Cherrey attributes Bornemann as a voice pushing her to challenge herself.
"We sign up for races together, train together and she is currently teaching me triathlon swim technique, so I don't drown in September," Cherrey says.
Cherrey's father also suffers from MS. Bornemann senses her wife's determination may stem from that family connection.
"I think that with every run, ride, swim, paddle and strength session, she has her dad with her," Bornemann says. "Unfortunately, his MS has worsened and she brings his spirit, influence and love with her at every workout and event.
Cherrey's MS is currently relapsing/remitting and her active lifestyle limits the chance of any major exacerbations. Still, such instances as fatigue in heat are common and must be dealt with accordingly. Jenn is not one to make excuses. Instead, she troops on.
"Jenn is incredibly tough, in every sense," Bornemann says. "She does not often talk about her MS, as she doesn't like to burden others, but I do know when it's effects are taking their toll."
Jenn Cherrey has suffered from MS for 18 years, but the word suffer should be used loosely. It has not stopped her from living out her everyday desires. One of those desires is kicking MS in the shins.
-- Follow Jeffrey Eisenband on Twitter @JeffEisenband.