Who needs superheroes when you’ve got Grant Adams and Andrew Murray? Debbie Reynolds was inspired by their extraordinary tale of friendship and courage
Imagine waking up one day with pins and needles in your hands and then finding out you have an incurable disease which will prematurely rob you of your mobility, your memories, your dreams and ultimately your life? And all this while coping with severe fatigue and unbelievable pain.
This is what former high-flying marketing director Grant Adams has been living with for 11 years since being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), a debilitating disease of the central nervous system.
When I meet him at Mount Edgecombe Estate where he lives with his wife Doody and children Matt, 16 and Jess, 13, I don’t see a victim. I shake not-so-steady but still firm hands with a man who is funny, humble, compelling and very brave.
“Yes, I have MS, but it does not have me,” says Grant. “When the doctor who diagnosed the MS said my life was going to change, I had no idea just how much – not being able to go for a long walk on the beach with my wife, surf with Matt or run with Jess. Never mind the small things you take for granted like standing at a braai, tying your shoelaces or buttoning your shirt.”
He also had no idea back then that he would be competing in the Comrades Marathon this year. The man – known to his friends as Big G – who played cricket, rugby, golf, squash and provincial hockey, had dreamt of running the ultra-marathon, but gave up hope as his MS progressed.
About a year ago he and his bestie Andrew Murray were chatting over a few beers about the things Grant missed the most. Not running the Comrades was one of them.
The next morning Andrew said while he wasn’t able to help Grant with a lot of his wishes, he was ready to help him get a Comrades medal – quite an undertaking from an avid cyclist who was about to complete his first Comrades.
“We phoned the Comrades race director and found out that if Andrew was going to push me, I needed a custom-made bike and we had to qualify like everyone else.”
Says Andrew, “I also told Grant he had to lose 12kg and not talk so much!”
With the three-wheeler bike sponsored by Andrew’s company, PhotoNote, the weight shed and a promise not to talk too much, the team did their qualifying race at the Pietermaritzburg Marathon in February.
“This is a huge sacrifice for Andrew,” says Grant. “With training for the Comrades he hasn’t been on his bike for a year. But if there’s anyone who can do it, it’s Andrew. He is the most focused guy I know.”
On the other hand, says Andrew, no one can begin to understand the pain Grant has to endure sitting on the bike. “Because his nerve endings are exposed, the pain he feels is probably far greater than that which most Comrades runners feel.”
Because of the hardships of training for this extreme event – and, remembering that Grant also has an intolerance to heat – they are extremely grateful for the support and encouragement they get from the rest of the “team”. Old friends Kevin Phillips, Colin Banks, Rohan Eager, Tim Morris and Damian Hand, who is flying out from Ireland, will be right beside them every step of the 89,2km on June 10.
“They can’t help me push,” says Andrew, “but they will be our mobile seconders making sure we don’t run over anyone and helping out at the water points.”
Making history by being the first person with MS to cross the Comrades finish line will take Grant a step closer to his goal of prolonging his life so that he can share special milestones with his family. In August he hopes to start a new treatment AHSCT (Autologous Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplant), which won’t cure the disease, but will hopefully stop its progression for up to five years.
“Until recently the treatment has been too risky with up to four fatalities in 100,” explains Grant. “It involves totally depleting your immune system with chemotherapy, and then using your stem cells to regenerate and ‘reboot’ your system.”
Grant is understandably apprehensive knowing the risks and that he will have to be in a hospital isolation ward for at least three weeks, before a long recovery period. “If this can extend my time not confined to a wheelchair or bed, then I am ready to give it a go, even knowing how sick I will feel at first. Just waking up one day pain free would make it worthwhile.”
It is his family and his community, he says, who have given him the courage to keep fighting. “The community support has been amazing, from people saying hello during our training runs to all those who sold out my fund-raising golf day and auction. I can’t afford the treatment without financial support, but the emotional support is just as important.
“Some people give up a weekend for their friends, but Andrew has given up a whole year and much more,” says Grant. “Like Doody says, he’s given me back the wind in my hair.”
Andrew doesn’t see it as a sacrifice. “If the roles were reversed Grant would be doing exactly the same thing. When we’re out training in the morning watching the sunrise, life is good and there is hope.” *
Follow Grant and Andrew on Facebook, Comrades MS Challenge, or go to www.mymsjourney.co.zaTags: Comrades, multiple sclerosis