Sunday, March 6, 2011

Bathing beauties

Click on the image above for a larger and keyed photograph.

When I saw this photo yesterday, I wanted to add it to Quigley's Cabinet because of its visual interest, but shied away thinking that was its only redeeming value. Not so! The image features 12 British Olympic hopefuls in the sports of swimming, diving, water polo, and synchronized swimming. And what I learned from the brief write-up is that the woman front and center has multiple sclerosis. Stephanie Millward was diagnosed with MS in 2000 at the age of 17. She describes, “I...had just swum for England in the World Cup. Swimming was taking me all over the world and I was training for the Sydney Olympics in 2000. I was so excited. But strange things started happening. I noticed I couldn’t see the clock while I was training, I swam straight into the side of the pool once and then fell over getting out.” The diagnosis was confirmed with an MRI and Stephanie was prescribed Beta Interferon.* Like most of us, she has good days and bad days. Most of the time she is ambulatory, though her balance is poor, and she can see well enough to drive. During an exacerbation, her vision is greatly affected and she uses a wheelchair. In 2008, Stephanie returned to the pool and won medals at the Danish Open Swimming Championships (gold in 50m backstroke and 100m backstroke, bronze for 50m and 100m freestyle). She then learned, at the age of 26, that her time in the 100m backstroke at the British Swimming Championships - which broke her own European record by 3 seconds - qualified her to compete in the Beijing Paralympics. Though she missed the Sydney Olympics in 2000 because of her illness, and finished out of the medals in Beijing, Stephanie took home 5 gold medals at the European Paralympic Swimming Championships in 2009.

The photo shoot was arranged by the UK's National Lottery, which supports more than 1,400 world-class athletes through UK Sport. The swimmers weren't as worried about the nudity as you might think. As one of them said, "I was more worried about how I was going to breathe and smile at the same time."

*I took Betaseron for years before going on my current therapy of Tysabri.

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