Managing Multiple Sclerosis Through Cycling

Roxanne LeBlanc was a regular bike rider before her diagnosis, and she didn’t let MS stop her.

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Roxanne LeBlanc, cycling in Calgary, AB. Photo by Karin Olafson

Roxanne LeBlanc, on the Peace Bridge in Calgary, AB. Photo by Karin Olafson

Growing up on the Canadian prairies, Roxanne LeBlanc spent plenty of time on her bike. She continued to cycle as an adult and was the picture of great health. Until one day LeBlanc was out shopping and everything changed.

Something was wrong. Her left arm suddenly felt heavy and then her left leg did. She couldn’t walk and had no idea why.

After years of visits to doctors, a CAT scan, and an MRI, LeBlanc was officially diagnosed with relapsing and remitting Multiple Sclerosis (MS) when she was 35 years old. This is a relapsing or progressive disease where the immune system attacks the fatty tissue around nerve cells. The symptoms are different for everyone – there are four kinds of MS – but common symptoms can include: trouble balancing, blurred vision, numbness, fatigue, and pain.

LeBlanc, now 60, chose to manage her symptoms by focusing on stress management and aerobic activity. Instead of participating in drug trials and taking medication, LeBlanc rides her bike to help manage her MS symptoms and postpone relapses. She bikes everywhere: to run errands, to social events, and, when she was working, to commute to work.

Physically, cycling improves LeBlanc’s cardiovascular fitness and balance; she attributes the effective management of her MS to her regular activity. “And the aerobic activity releases endorphins, a natural painkiller,” said LeBlanc.

Mentally, cycling also became a way for LeBlanc to challenge herself. “To encourage myself, I started a journal to see how much I was cycling.” In 2005, she reached a 3,100- mile (5,000 kilometer) landmark. Each year after that, LeBlanc used her bike more to run errands and commute, starting earlier in the year. In 2013, LeBlanc cycled 6,835 miles (11,000 kilometers).

“Cycling also helps me with the stress of the diagnosis,” said LeBlanc. “Even when I wasn’t feeling well, I’d hop on the bike and it would help me feel better. It makes me feel like a kid again but also reminds me of my independence.”

While cycling has helped LeBlanc manage MS for 25 years, it isn’t a cure. LeBlanc experienced another relapse in 2014 and had to cut back on how much she rode. However, she still runs errands by bike and acknowledges that cycling is integral to her current health and integral to her successful management of the disease.

More than two decades after her diagnosis, LeBlanc still tries to get on her bike every day and encourages others to do so too. She also plans her holidays around bike-friendly cities.

“My plan is to continue riding for as long as I possibly can – for the rest of my life to be exact!” said LeBlanc.

3 Comments

  • Chris Lockyer

    Roxanne should visit Adelaide,South Australia if she would like to visit a bike friendly city. I have been a competitive road cyclist, now a regular commuter cyclist in this city and have witnessed a steady improvement in the cycling amenity of my home town.During the Southern Hemisphere summer in late January for 6 days we have the Tour Down Under where cycle teams from around the world compete in the first of many international road races in the lead up to the Tour De France. Adelaide comes alive with cyclists of of all ages and shapes. The weather is warm and sunny, the people are friendly, you have heard it from a local. Worth a visit…

  • Graham Newling

    Great story. I’ve been through a similar experience and calling for further research about bike riding brain affect. Sydney University is looking at bike riding and MS http://sydney.edu.au/research/opportunities/opportunities/1933

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