My whole family was connected to the military. So, following high school graduation it was natural for me to join the Army. I served for 20 years. I’m not sure how long I’ve had Multiple Sclerosis, but my neurologist thinks I’ve likely had the disease since before 1990.
I had symptoms of MS – such as loss of feeling in my right hand and left leg – long before my diagnosis, but the symptoms were blamed on a severe back injury I sustained from an air jump.
In 2007, I was having issues with my eyesight, as well as my walking. My wife insisted I get some more testing done and this ended up including a brain MRI. The test showed 26 lesions in my brain; that’s when they realized I had MS. My wife and I were shocked. The neurologist was shocked I hadn’t been diagnosed earlier.
Cleland and his daughter Hannah
Once I knew, I read all I could about MS. Luckily, my MS has been manageable with mostly good days and a few not-so-good days.
Cardio-respiratory exercises at least three times a week
I became connected to VA health care following a surgery which necessitated rehabilitation. I was assigned to the Milwaukee VA in Wisconsin, and along with my physical therapy sessions, I received a recumbent bike to help with my rehabilitation.
The bike helped so much that I started using it every chance I got, making sure I was doing cardio-respiratory exercises at least three times a week. With all the exercise and movement, I could see my muscle tone improving. I found it easier to get around as I was stronger and had more energy.
While it was great to feel physically like my old self again, when I reflected on how I was spending my days, I found they weren’t as full and satisfying as I would like them to be. I wasn’t sure what to do about it, but I knew that I needed a change. While attending the Highland Games, my children and I came across an area that allowed attendees to try archery.
My children tried it and insisted I try it as well. Little did they know I was a member of the archery team in middle and high school. I put three arrows in the target and they were amazed.
I reached out to my children’s elementary school about the possibility of teaching archery to students and was quickly given everything I needed to start an archery program. The children enjoyed learning about archery and I enjoyed teaching them. The program progressed to middle and high school as students became interested.
I feel blessed to have this opportunity to teach archery to students and encourage others to keep their eyes open for opportunities to expand their horizon. We all get chances and choices in life. We’ve all been in situations where saying no is easier than saying yes.
I encourage you to say yes to good opportunities because if we don’t make the most of our life, we’re failing at living.
Every day that I wake up and put my feet on the ground and stand up is a good day for me. I take chances and when life creates opportunities, I grab them and am excited about where they will take me.
March is Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Month. For more information, please visit VA’s MS website.