Shrewsbury woman stays physically fit despite multiple sclerosis
By Ed Karvoski Jr., Contributing Writer
Shrewsbury – Anna Connors of Shrewsbury has always been physically active. She studied dance from age 5 through her 20s. Then she became a competitive runner and participated in marathons. Now age 60, she continues a disciplined exercise routine after a 2006 diagnosis of primary progressive multiple sclerosis (MS).
“I vowed to take care of myself and not let this get me down,” she said.
March is National MS Awareness Month. As a regional ambassador for the MS Foundation, Connors welcomes opportunities year-round to share her experience and hope with others.
“They can keep their mind and body going,” she said. “Just get out there and find a passion.”
Several years ago, Connors noticed her right knee ached while doing step aerobics. A sports medicine doctor did MRIs and referred her to a neurologist. More testing followed for over a year before she was finally diagnosed. Her condition didn’t improve after three chemotherapy treatments.
“I felt terrible,” she said. “I decided to just keep exercising.”
Soon after moving 12 years ago from California to Massachusetts, Connors joined the Boroughs Family Branch YMCA in Westborough. She now serves as a member of that branch’s Board of Governors.
“The Boroughs Y is a real big part of my life,” she said. “I’m there three times a week, swimming and working out on the machines.”
Joining her for the workouts is her friend Maggie Harling of Northborough, who also has MS. Their workout includes hydrobics in the pool.
“The water holds you up like a gentle hug,” Connors explained. “You have balance issues with MS, but in the water I can do things like skipping, hopping and standing on one leg.”
Connors and Harling also participate in a therapy horseback-riding program twice monthly, year-round in Brimfield.
A few years ago, Connors had a chance meeting with Gypsy Phillips of Northborough, a belly dance performer and instructor. They casually discussed a weekly dance class at the Shrewsbury Senior Center. Connors acknowledged doubt because belly dancing would require balance, but she gave it a try.
“I never turn down a challenge,” she said. “Hearing the music got me wondering if I could dance again – and I can. It’s a new spark in my life.”
When Connors attended her 40th high school reunion a couple years ago, she was amused at the sight of a photo caption declaring her desire to become a ballet dancer.
“Who knew that I would become a belly dancer?” she remarked. “It’s funny how that worked out.”
Another chance meeting introduced Connors to Marty Ayotte of Worcester, a sit-skier who reads stories about athletes with disabilities on the program “Audio Journal Sports Page,” Fridays from 5 to 6 p.m. Audio Journal is a nonprofit radio, cable and online broadcast service for people throughout central Massachusetts who are blind, visually impaired or otherwise unable to read print.
Now, Connors also reads for the weekly program.
“I do my own research and find stories with a Google alert,” she explained. “I read stories about disabled people doing anything athletic, adventurous or out of the ordinary – even wheelchair dancing. I can relate with people not wanting to give up.”
Connors recently began attending a support group at the MS Center at the UMass Memorial Medical Center, University Campus, in Worcester. She and Harling will lead the meeting Wednesday, May 21, 6 to 7 p.m., titled “Yes, You Can!”
“It will be about being active, fit, and having fun despite MS,” Connors said.
For information about the MS support group, call Carolyn Griffin, RN MSCN, at 508-856-5006. For information about Audio Journal, visit audiojournal.net.
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