News and Opinions about MS, Health & Disability

Bank holiday chaos in more ways than one

John Lubbock

John Lubbock MP, later created the first Baron Avebury, the man behind the Bank Holidays Act 1871.

Traffic chaos including a 30 mile traffic jam on a major motorway characterised the final weekend in August in the UK as families hit the road. This was their last chance to enjoy a last summer long weekend away before the children go back to school in early September.

I say ‘long weekend’ because here the last Monday in August is a bank holiday. But, the interesting question is just when is a bank holiday not a bank holiday? You may be surprised to learn that the answer is when it has been observed so long that it is covered by common law, not by an Act of Parliament.

Different countries have various public holidays, even in the UK, so I shall keep my comments to those in England and Wales. In both those countries there are just six official bank holidays.

Only six, I hear you say, that’s not right, we have eight. Well, that may be just a little confusing because, technically, we don’t.

The other two days that are not statutory bank holidays are, get ready for this second example of chaos, Good Friday and Christmas Day. That’s right, those two days are not given by any Act of Parliament but are regarded as public holidays under common law.

One government website gives the following explanation: ‘Bank holidays are holidays when banks and many other businesses are closed for the day. Public holidays are holidays which have been observed through custom and practice.’

The banks are still closed though!

Why do we have these welcome days away from our places of work? Well, it was Liberal MP John Lubbock who got the ball rolling. A banker by profession, he introduced a Bill that was to become the Bank Holidays Act of 1871, aiming to ease the pressure on workers with an extra four days off. At that point only Easter Monday, the first Monday in August, Whit Monday, and Boxing Day. As an aside here, Lisa tells me that Good Friday, Easter Monday and Boxing Day are not holidays in the USA but they have plenty of others.

Anyway, John Lubbock later became the first Baron Avebury and years later as a teenager I was fortunate enough to get to know his grandson Eric Lubbock, now the 4th Baron, who became the Liberal MP for the town in which I grew up – Orpington, then in Kent but since 1965 part of the London Borough of Bromley.

eric lubbock

The fourth Baron Avebury, formerly Eric Lubbock MP, grandson of John Lubbock MP.

John Lubbock had four main political agendas, one of which was securing additional holidays and shorter working hours for the working classes and, predictably, the new law was very popular.

A lot has happened since then, the holiday in August was changed from the first Monday to the last, and Whit Monday was been changed to the Spring bank holiday on the last Monday in May, instead of the Monday following the Christian religious festival of Whitsun that, like Easter, moved around a bit.

We have now accounted for the four bank holidays covered by the 1871 Act plus the two common law public holidays. Two days remain.

The newest bank holidays (yes, real ones) are New Year’s Day which was added to the list 1974 and the early May one, the first Monday in May not the first day of the month, in 1978.

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Please smile politely, thank you

ice cream van

It may be an old fashioned attitude but, to me, good manners and politeness are still an important part of everyday life.

Today, such things as saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ are so often ignored as we go about our 21st century lives.

Sadly for children in our modern society, the lapse in the use of common courtesy comes from people who should themselves be good role models and should also be correcting their offspring for not being polite.

I saw an example of this lapse in the following story posted on Facebook from Joanne, a friend of mine.

She wrote: “So I’m up at the beach and decide to get an ice cream from the usual Mr. Happy go Lucky man, due to the fact there isn’t another one there, and I say with a smile: ‘Could I have a 99 please?’ Expressionless man says ‘£2.20.’ Note, no ‘please’ and this is as he is doing my ice cream. He shoves the flake in and practically throws it at me. I say ‘Have you any red stuff (fruit sauce) please? A very emphatic NO was the reply! If I hadn’t been so hungry I would have told him what to do with his ice cream.

“So I take it back to my car, then a man comes to the car next to me with four ice creams and says to me: ‘How on earth do they do any business here? What an obnoxious man selling ice creams.’

OK, so he may not have been as busy as he wanted but, for goodness sake, at least smile. I will NOT be spending money with him again.”

I commented: “Not a great example of customer relations or good manners.”

And Joanne replied: “No, not at all Ian, but I’m afraid it seems to becoming the norm.”

Is it? I hope not. It does seem to be here in the UK but I wonder about the rest of the world. So many societies have politeness and good manners as intrinsic values but we seem to have forgotten how to make good use of them.

In this guy’s case, he is certainly not doing himself any favours in terms of business and he clearly knows nothing about good customer relations.

When it comes in increasing profits, it’s essential to give attention to existing customers and for an ice cream vendor that means a friendly smile, a chatty attitude and offering each customer that ‘something extra’, such as having the fruit sauce available and offering to add it free of charge – without waiting to be asked.

If he is incapable of doing that, or unwilling, maybe he should find a job which does not involve contact with customers or the public. He certainly appears to find a sales role unfulfilling.

Satisfying existing customers is essential to keeping any business thriving and the way to attract repeat business is to treat all customers in a way that has a positive effect on them.

A simple ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ would be a good start and that would also be a great example for all children.

• There are other examples of good/bad service and good/bad customer relations that will be the subject of a future blog – or two.


USA to stay backward in gun control

There is no doubt that I was not born in the USA and certainly my British accent makes this quite clear. You might think, therefore, that I should not write about controversial subjects from the other side of the Atlantic. That, however, is not my opinion.

On many counts I do admire America, as a nation, as a place where sites tremendous beauty can co-exist with cities of great stature, as a people and as a world power. It is also the land where my wife, Lisa, was born and lived until we married four years ago.

There is, though, one major drawback to the American way of life – and that is the ‘right to bear arms’. This has led to workplaces, colleges, schools, places of entertainment, a church, restaurants, shopping malls and even streets becoming scenes of tragedy after tragedy.

In each case, there are striking similarities: the shooter has always been male, he almost always shot himself at the end of his murder spree, he almost certainly had a mental issue of one kind or another and he had access to one or more weapons.

Now, the USA is far from the only country that has suffered massacres of this type but the cold stark fact is that they happen there more frequently than anywhere else. To me, this is the result of poor gun control laws, perhaps weakly enforced, in a country where the constitution’s second amendment grants all citizens the right to bear arms.

The apologists for keeping guns, as typified by the National Rifle Association (NRA), are often heard to use the same phrase. And that is: “It is not guns that kill people, it is people that kill people”.

Well, actually, you need a gun and a person to pull the trigger. Take away the person and the gun is simply an object; take away the gun and the person, however mentally unstable, cannot shoot people.

Andy Parker, the father of TV journalist Alison Parker who was murdered on air in Virginia, has said while he believed people should have the right to own a gun but that much more needs to be done to restrict access for those with mental health problems.

“I’m not trying to take away guns,” he said. “There has to be a way to force politicians who are cowards and in the pockets of the NRA to make sensible laws so that crazy people can’t get guns. It can’t be that hard.”

To an extent, I can agree with that – or at least agree with the sentiments behind it. But, and it is a big BUT, how can this be achieved? In a country where the second amendment is treated as a God-given right, guns will continue to abound and, however strong gun controls are and however stringently they are enforced, mentally unstable people will still be able to lay their hands on weapons.

The NRA, and others, claim the need is for more guns to be in the hands of ‘good guys’ but, in reality, that argument over simplifies the entire issue. America has plenty of ‘good guys’, armed police, and despite this mass shootings continue.

The only real way to clamp down on gun-related murders is to eliminate the weapons. This can be demonstrated by looking at the figures of gun-related murders in various countries. The rates in this graph are given by 100,000 people, so varying population sizes do not interfere with comparisons. This graph was previously published in the Washington Post.


Even given these figures, nothing will be done as there is little will to pass new laws and no will at all to repeal the second amendment, especially when so many politicians in Congress receive funding from the NRA.

Sadly, it seems that the USA is destined to remain one of the most advanced nations in the world, while being one of the most backward in the handling of issues relating to the possession of guns.

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Do you gamble? Generally, I don’t but…



I have to admit that I do occasionally buy a lottery ticket but not very often these days. Years ago I had three lines that I bought every Saturday then when they added another draw on Wednesday, I only bought those if there was a rollover.

Of course, I got the occasional minor win but nothing much and over the weeks, months and years those £1 tickets cost far more than I ever won. But having three set lines always meant they had to be bought as the week they weren’t could be the week they would have won.

That bad habit was discarded at the same time my first marriage ended in divorce in 2011. After remarrying just eight weeks later, my lottery buying pattern changed to what it still is. Today, I just buy one £2 line, the price has increased, just once in a while – and only when it is a rollover. Even better if it is a double or triple rollover.

What’s more, I only ever buy a Lucky Dip ticket, so there is never any pressure to buy a ticket.

This week, though, I bought two Lucky Dip tickets: one for Tuesday’s Euromillions draw for a maximum prize of £22.3 million and another for Wednesday’s £4.3m rollover Lotto draw. These days, I buy tickets online and receive email notification of any win.

Imagine my surprise upon receiving such an email on Tuesday night. Yes, great news, I was a Euromillions winner. I had won….wait for it…the staggering amount of…drum roll please…£6.20! Yes, £6 and 20p. I’ll try not to spend it all at once.

What about the Wednesday Lotto draw? I can almost hear you ask. I am afraid no email, so no win, yet again – although I did win £25 in June.

As far as other gambling is concerned, my dad’s favourite was football pools in which he tried to predict eight score draws but seeing him struggle vainly every week made it certain that they would never interest me. Likewise nor have horse or dog racing although in 2007 I did attend an evening of trotting races in Canada and spent the princely sum of 10 dollars. I will also buy a sweepstake ticket if asked.

On our cruise holidays that Lisa and I enjoy, we do sometimes visit the casino on board. We keep clear of the various gaming tables with their croupiers, though, and just play the slot machines. And we decide in advance how much we are prepared to spend, we regard it as spending not losing, and always stop when that figure is reached. It is the only way.

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Schoolboy French proves useful – in Spain


Cray Valley Technical High School where I was a pupil from 1964 to 1970.

It was back at the end of April and beginning of May that my wife Lisa and I flew to southern Spain to look at properties that we might choose to buy and make our home.

In fact, it was only the second that we saw that, as soon as we went inside, we both agreed ‘this is for us’. I have often heard people say that while house hunting they knew instantly when a property was right for them. I had always dismissed such stories as nonsense – until it happened to the pair of us.

Having found our dream home so quickly, and much faster than we thought was possible, we suddenly found ourselves with much more time on our hands than we expected. Time that was not to be wasted but enjoyed. Nine days of glorious sunshine. Beautiful.

There was one little difficulty, the language. Lisa learned some Spanish at school but, not having used it since, has forgotten most of it. And my knowledge didn’t exist. I have no memory of Spanish being offered as a subject in my school. I spent five years learning French to no real level of success.

But one evening what I could recall of my schoolboy French proved invaluable.

We were sitting in a lovely restaurant with the Mediterranean Sea just a few yards away – and I do mean a few, no more than 15 yards I’d say. On arrival we had been greeted by a young man and shown to our table. I could already say ‘hello’, ‘two’ and ‘thank you’ in Spanish but that was about the extent of my vocabulary at the time.

Well, once we looked through the menu and made our choices, the same young man returned to take our order. Mine was easy, I just pointed to the dish on the menu. Lisa, however, wanted to know how the vegetables, provided as part of her meal, were cooked. She hoped they would be fried.

I tried to ask but the young waiter spoke as little English as I then spoke Spanish. In other words, the communication between us was not very good. Actually, that is an understatement, our level of mutual understanding was non-existent.

At that point, either as a brilliant idea or out of pure desperation and I think it was the latter, he said “Parlez vous Français?” Really, I should have said ‘Non’ but I didn’t and my lessons of 1964 to 1969 came back in bits and pieces.

I replied, in faltering French, that I could speak and understand a little – but slowly. He understood, we had established a level of communication. I managed to ask in as much French as I could muster, the question that Lisa needed to be answered. I recall using the words ‘legumes’ and ‘frite’ but the rest is a blur. The first bit of good news was that he understood and the second was, having checked with the chef, he returned to say that they were indeed fried.

So, being reassured on that point, Lisa ordered the dish she had chosen and we both proceeded to thoroughly enjoy a great meal.

As that was the only way the waiter and I could understand each other, the French language needed to be used several times before the meal was over and, as we made our way back to the car, I thought of the effort my French teacher had put in, 50 or so years ago.

Thanks, Mr Reader, I may have failed the Spoken French part of the GCE (year 10) examination but your work was not wasted after all.

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Goods and chattels start journey to new life


One American, Lisa, and one Brit, Ian, will soon be enjoying their married life in the sun of southern Spain.

Another major step along the road of our move to Spain was taken yesterday. At lunchtime, right on time as promised, Paul arrived to collect what we want to have in our new home. We had found him through the Anyvan business so, although we had not met previously, we knew he would be reliable and provide a quality and professional service.

Paul makes fairly frequent trips to Europe, particularly to France and Spain to transport various people’s possessions to and from the continental mainland. Our goods make up just part of a van that will be fully loaded when he sets off on his journey.

He had driven all the way to North Wales from east London and was going back via Manchester to make a second pick-up that he only got confirmation about last night. We enjoyed a chat with him and agreed we would all meet up next summer as he and his wife have a holiday apartment in a town only a few miles away from our new Spanish home.

Anyway, he made short work of loading into his van our three packing cases, one large suitcase, one overnight bag, one briefcase, a dismantled table plus a bundle of walking sticks and shepherds crooks. Then Lisa paid him the balance of his fee and we waved him goodbye. When we arrive in Spain in mid-November, our possessions will be waiting for us.

Our garage is looking a lot clearer these days. So far it has been emptied of furniture and other items that have been sent to auction, books and clothing that has been recycled, general rubbish and today’s despatch of our property to Spain.

There’s still some items to go to another auction but they will be going with the furniture in our flat when we leave in October.

It is such a culture shock to see our garage so empty. It really is getting to the stage where I can get our car inside – and that would be for the first time since we moved in more than three years ago. Actually, this Thursday I will introduce the car to the garage. That is the day our gardener comes to cut the front lawn and, without the car to cause an obstruction, he will be able to get at the weeds that grow in the middle of our driveway. I had told Lisa that I would park the car out in the road but now I don’t need to do that.

Sending our goods and chattels on their way was a significant step for us. We actually leave our Colwyn Bay flat for the last time in eight weeks, eight weeks today. Time is marching on and our excitement is continuing to build.

It is not only the garage that is beginning to take on an empty look, so is the flat itself. The wardrobes are down to just a few items as most clothing is now either on its way to Spain or is already packed in suitcases for our holiday in America. The drawers in the bedroom are completely empty, the sideboard in the living room, like the kitchen cupboards, now only contain the basics. The hall cupboard is similarly also almost clear.

Lisa is closely monitoring food use and buying only enough to get us through until we leave. Our ideal would be to run out at that point but we know that it will not work out like that.

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Naked riders make a serious point

horse lauren  horse man

Left, Lauren and Starlight in the picture that started it all. Right, men show they also feel strongly about road safety.

Stripping off your clothes and being photographed naked with some convenient item hiding the genitals and breasts is nothing new but it has mainly been done to create calendars to be sold to raise money for charity.

Perhaps the most well-known of these was the one produced in 1999 by the ladies of the Rylstone branch of the women’s institute, in Yorkshire, to raise money for Leukaemia Research. It was later to be the subject of the film The Calendar Girls.

Well, it may not be for a fundraising calendar but the idea of people discarding their clothes and being photographed, for a good cause, seems to be alive and kicking.

This time the good cause in question is not a charity, there is no calendar and no money is being requested. Instead, all the naked and nearly naked people who are taking part are horse riders, And they are pictured either riding or with their steeds and they are promoting road safety.

The idea is as simple as it is clever. Many cars are driven past horses and riders too quickly, too closely and too noisily – all of which risk frightening horses and causing accidents.

Riders are justifiably fed-up with hearing excuses such as the drivers didn’t see the horses and riders until too late. So, stripping off and posing for the photographs is the riders’ way of saying to drivers “Can you see me now?”

It was all the idea of 19-year-old Lauren de Gruchy from the Channel Island of Jersey. She posted a picture of herself on Facebook; alongside her horse Starlight, Lauren was pictured wearing just a black lace pair of French knickers and her riding boots.

She now runs the Facebook Slow Down for My Horse campaign that has attracted much support with pictures of horses alongside both male and female riders with little or no clothing. While most seem to have originated from the UK (so much for the Brits being shy and reserved), a couple have come from the US. Perhaps more will follow, who knows?

I have nothing but praise for the young lady who started the ball rolling and for everyone else who has since joined in. It may be seen as a jokey or light-hearted way to campaign but it has got a very serious message. It is if you are driving and have to pass horses being ridden on the road, please make sure you so slowly, leave plenty of space and keep as quiet as you possibly can. Certainly, never sound your car’s horn anywhere near a horse.

It is easy to spook a horse and so cause an accident that could lead to extremely serious consequences for horse, rider and others.

Speaking to the Press, Lauren said “I’ve seen so many riders and horses in the news being hit by cars and unfortunately some have passed away. I’ve had experiences on the road with drivers speeding past, coming too close to my horse and spooking him. It takes two seconds to slow down. I don’t think drivers realise the danger of speeding near horses.”

Rule 215 of the Highway Code, the UK Government’s official book which contains the rules which tell people how to use public roads safely, says “Be particularly careful of horse riders and horse-drawn vehicles especially when overtaking. Always pass wide and slowly. Horse riders are often children, so take extra care and remember riders may ride in double file when escorting a young or inexperienced horse or rider. Look out for horse riders’ and horse drivers’ signals and heed a request to slow down or stop. Take great care and treat all horses as a potential hazard.”

I suspect most countries have similar rules, so let’s keep all road users, both human and animal, safe.

Let’s be careful out there!


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On duty with the grammar police

Some people are so keen to correct others’ use of the English language that they often become known colloquially as the ‘grammar police’.

While I am not sure of the political correctness of such an epithet, it does seem to be a fairly popular way to describe anyone who has a tendency to correct the grammar and spelling that they see as an affront to our language.

It is an interesting issue for me to consider and write about as I find myself, figuratively speaking, sitting astride the fence. I sometimes agree with one side, sometimes the other.

Let me explain. Because of my training and years of experience as a journalist, I am not ashamed to say that pieces by me are written using what is known as journalese. Paragraphs are short, sentences are brief. They are designed to be easy to read and understand – unlike wordy scientific and similar technical papers.

Using journalese, I am not afraid to start sentences with conjunctions such as ‘and’, ‘but’ and ‘because’. While this is frowned upon as an example of bad grammar, journalists use it to keep sentences short and so make their writing easier to understand. It is used tor effect, for impact.

However, there are two ways of misusing the English language that I simply cannot bring myself to write. And these are the split infinitive and ending a sentence with a preposition, such as ‘of’, ‘with’, ‘from’ or ‘to’. I have seen at least one organisation’s style manual that says both of these are fine to use but, even though it is a matter of style rather than a grammar rule, I cannot do it.

It is relatively easy to avoid both if you want to do so. For example, if I had stopped the last sentence with the word ‘to’ as you probably would when speaking, it would have ended in a preposition. I chose to avoid it by writing two extra words.

An infinitive is easy to split. The most famous example is most probably heard at the beginning of every episode of Star Trek when the soundtrack says ‘to boldly go’. That one would be easy to avoid, just saying ‘to go boldly’ would be correct and lose none of its impact.

Some people genuinely do not know what an infinitive is, some do not want to know while others do not care. Fair enough, I suppose, but it is really easy to understand. All verbs have an infinitive: to be, to have, to go, to do, to write, to watch – and so on.

One of my pet hates, and this really gets to me, is the way that lazy speaking has crept into lazy writing. Or, maybe, it is not laziness, maybe some people believe they are writing correctly when they use the contracted or shortened form of ‘would have’, ‘could have’ and ‘should have’.

The shortened form of ‘would have’, for example, is ‘would’ve’ but I have seen it written as ‘would of’ and, worse still, ‘wood of’. Aaaaagh! That is terrible and, if they really do not know any better, it does not speak well of the quality of education that pupils have been given in school.

Am I a member of the grammar police? Sometimes.


MS Synergy Independent Support Group looks to the future

Scan_mss poster

My beloved Lisa and I were out and about last night We weren’t exactly painting the town red but were attending the monthly social get-together of MS Synergy – our local support group for people who have MS, their families, carers and friends.

The group will be two years old next month, having split from the MS Society in September 2013 following abortive discussions about our desire, indeed our need, to have more of a say about our affairs without interference from the local area branch. When faced with an immovable object that absolutely refused to allow the group to operate free of branch controls but still as part of  the society, everyone involved in the support group decided unanimously to change our status to that of an independent support group.

Since then, the group has flourished. It is now a ‘small charity’ as defined by the Charities Act, the UK law that governs charities in the UK, it has its own health & safety policy including a laid-down risk assessment procedure, holds fundraising activities and is about to publish its second Annual Report.

In the year ahead, there are a couple of potholes in the road to continuing development. The first is that our chairman’s MS has caused his health to deteriorate to such an extent that he feels unable to continue in office; and the second is that Lisa and I are moving to Spain in November. In fact we are leaving on 26th October and going on a holiday to the USA before arriving at our new home.

With Nigel not standing for re-election as chairman and our departure to Spain (I am secretary and Lisa is a committee member), the charity has to look to other members to take on more responsibility. At last night’s social event, we discussed the issue prior to next month’s AGM and the outcome looks encouraging.

One member had already been asked to agree to stand for the role of chairman but she has not, so far, been very keen as she has a lot to cope with personally. She has MS, has three children of her own and two adopted children – quite a commitment. But, last night, another member said that she would be willing to be chairman. So, we were off to a promising start.

Organising the monthly gatherings, which is what we call our get-togethers, including booking the venues and sending out emails or text messages to our members and supporters, has been part of the secretary’s duties but we now have another member who is willing to join the committee and act as ‘gatherings coordinator’. Excellent. Although now retired, her experience as a solicitor may also be useful.

The biggest problem appears to be finding someone to replace me as secretary because no-one seems willing to undertake the role. After our discussion last night, however, we may have found a way through but it will be up to the AGM to decide.

When I detailed the duties our secretary needs to undertake, it became fairly obvious that in today’s electronic world most can be completed anywhere. Rather like working from home instead of commuting to an office. They could, we decided, be carried out as easily in Spain as in Colwyn Bay.

If that is the way that the AGM decides to go and I stay as secretary despite being in Spain, the secretary will not be attending committee meetings or future general meetings in person – but I could be there on a video link using the free Skype system. Of course, there would be a few other small points to clear up but, on the whole, last night the consensus was that we could make it work.

It may not be easy but what is a problem if not a challenge to be overcome?

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Kayla is an amazing winning athlete – oh, and she has MS

kayla 1

Although I might be in danger of being accused of sounding like a broken record, absolutely no apology is coming from me.

If you have read the ‘CAN do attitude to life’ page on this website, you will know that my approach to having multiple sclerosis is to concentrate on and enjoy what I can do. I refuse to waste my time regretting things that can no longer be achieved, nor to worry about what the future may or may not hold. It is a matter of doing what you can, controlling what you can and to hell with everything else.

What’s more, it seems that I am in good company as I have recently discovered the following quote on the fantastic Ireland, Multiple Sclerosis & Me website of fellow blogger Willeke Van Eeckhoutte. The quote is from Stephen Hawking, renowned scientist and director of research at the Cambridge University Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, who has motor neurone disease or ALS. He said “My advice to other disabled people would be, concentrate on things your disability doesn’t prevent you doing well, and don’t regret the things it interferes with. Don’t be disabled in spirit as well as physically.”

On a Facebook page, I discovered the inspirational story of a girl who embodies this undaunted spirit to which all of us should aspire. It is the story of Kayla Montgomery

Kayla is one of America’s best long distance runners but the amazing thing is what she has had the emotional strength and perseverance to achieve – despite having multiple sclerosis.

Now aged 18, it was when she was 14 that MS was discovered. She was then an avid football (soccer to my American readers) player but a fall led to a loss of feelings in her legs – and that was the start of a painful voyage of medical tests ending in diagnosis of MS.

She had to give up contact sports, so she started running and kept running.

At first she had only an average ability and was not very fast – but genuine commitment and a trainer whom she told to push her as far as she could go has led her to great success. Title after title, record after record have fallen to this young lady from North Carolina.

She says that during a race her legs go numb, starting with her feet and working upwards so she feels no pain but, of course, she gets hot from the exercise involved and that is something that all of us with MS know is going to exacerbate symptoms if only for a short space of time.

At the end of each race, as she stops running, Kayla’s legs give way and she collapses into her coaches arms. He carries her off the track and her temperature is brought back to normal using ice and water.

It seems a high price to pay but Kayla is a brave and determined to use her legs as long as she can.

You can catch ESPN’s video called Catching Kayla on You Tube.