Friday 27 January 2012

Can Epilepsy and RAAM work?

Lance Armstrong once said that: "endurance athletes are running away from something inside of themselves and that's one of the reasons they do what they do". Personally I've never had much time for Lance Armstrong, I've always been a fan of Andy Schleck myself.

I know he's wrong, because I'm not running away from anything. My goal has always been to ride full pelt towards the stigma of Epilepsy and smash right through it with a bicycle.

But what my metaphorical sledgehammer would be, is a small medal with the words: Race Across America Solo Official Finisher. I do wonder sometimes, if Epilepsy would make or break my RAAM attempt?

There are some big factors in my way.

Poor nutrition and sleep deprivation have been shown to lower the seizure threshold of people with Epilepsy. I have one rule with regards to my RAAM attempt when I hope to take on the Solo Category in 2014 - if I have so much as a Petit-mal seizure I pull out.

My medication, possibly the opposite of what Mr. Armstrong may have been taking in the TdF, is performance impairing rather than enhancing. Side effects of both of my 2 Anti-Epileptic Medications, Oxcarbazepine & Clobazam, include fatigue, dizziness, tiredness and drowsiness amongst others. Luckily I don't have any side effects that I can notice in any dramatic way from these two medications. Don't get me wrong I'm not exactly a morning person, but I'm pretty sure that's just me!

These are pretty big blows to an already horrific race, one described in the magazine Outside's poll as the world's toughest endurance event. In not only the hardest category, but also the hardest sub-category of Solo Female.

All in all it doesn't look great for me finishing.

But the thing about Epilepsy, is that not only do people with it seem to be good at adapting, but for some reason people with Epilepsy seem to be more driven, more determined to work against the stigma. I think if you can conquer Epilepsy, the Race Across America should be a cake walk - just a very painful one! I'll adapt by training harder, by having the best team in the race, making sure I get the very best nutrition possible to compensate for energy loss, have the best crew chief possible and try and get the best bike, or two, to help me.

I hope I have that determination of someone with Epilepsy to help me, but more importantly for every training mile I do and every mile of the race I ride, I will have the inspiration of people I've met and friends I have who have Epilepsy to pull me up every hill and stretch of road I encounter.

The inspiration? Well you can't buy or inject that into yourself, I'm just lucky to have it.

I've mentioned this before but I think it's relevant to mention it again.

People with Epilepsy shouldn't be defined as the people they are during their seizures, but the people they can be outside of them.

I have much longer periods outside of my seizures to define myself and that allows me to take on the Race Across America. But I'm still Epileptic, like a huge many others and time after time they have defined themselves in the most amazing ways. World beating athletes, the best musicians of their generation, artists still recognised today as masters, some of the greatest leaders of all time, some of the most successful people in business, some of the best academics that ever lived.

They all had Epilepsy.

If we as a community have any of their traits, we will all achieve how we want to be defined. 


  1. From the age of 8 I grew up with epilepsy -- "gran mal" seizures, as they were called then. Thanks to enlightened parents and doctors, I played water polo and soccer ("football" on your side of the Atlantic) in high school. My first job (at 11) was to deliver prescriptions on my Philips 3-speed, undercutting Yellow Cab's taxi rates by 30%.

    As an adult cyclist I have completed many 100-mile century rides and two AIDS/Lifecycle rides (San Francisco to Los Angeles, 500-plus miles in 7 days), with epilepsy never the limiting factor--just limited strength, endurance, and joints "modified" and weakened by a 1970 rock-climbing fall.

    I wish you all the best in your upcoming RAAM attempts, Katie. As a physical therapist you have the perfect talent pool for choosing your crew—and they already know about delivering mobile services. :-)

    I look forward to following your blog and your efforts from Alameda, CA USA (on San Francisco Bay).

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