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Multiple sclerosis won't stop torch bearer

December 20, 2001

Multiple sclerosis won't stop torch bearer



By ANDREW SCHOTZ
andrews@herald-mail.com


Woody Smith thought his wife was trying to shirk work for a day.

But Vickie Smith could not get out of bed that morning 13 years ago.

The family had spent the previous day putting up wallpaper and paneling. The next morning, Vickie Smith couldn't move. Her left side was paralyzed.

"I just kept thinking, if I got to sleep and woke up, it would go away," she said. "It never did go away."

She learned she had multiple sclerosis, a crippling central nervous system disease.

Vickie Smith, 50, said she's learned how to physically and mentally cope with her illness, which is worse some days than others.

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When she found out that the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America had selected her to carry the Olympic torch in Martinsburg on Thursday, it was a good day.

"I was real tickled about it ...," she said. "It's such an honor to be able to do something for the United States. It makes me proud to be an American."

The Olympic organizing committee allowed the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America to pick one person to carry the torch before the 2002 Winter Games.

The group chose Smith, a mother and grandmother, because of her enthusiasm and because of her tight-knit family, said Cindy Richman, who works at the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America's Cherry Hill, N.J., headquarters.

They liked the fact that Smith's two young grandchildren will see her "make a piece of history," Richman said.

On her off days, Smith gets frustrated with her mind and body.

"It has affected my cognitive ability," she said. "I can't think good anymore. I'm real slow walking. Real slow."

Daughter Michele Shoemaker said multiple sclerosis has affected her mother's moods.

Smith, whose husband is also on disability, takes medication to control depression. In September, she began taking Betaseron in an attempt to lessen the severity of the disease.

The day she heard the diagnosis, Smith said, "I was devastated at first. I was angry at the world. I kept saying, 'Why me?'

"I've learned to accept it over the years."

Smith favorite ways to pass time are being outside and playing with her grandchildren. Her Chihuahua, Toby, is usually close enough to be her shadow.

Smith will carry the torch Thursday evening on Winchester Avenue, from Addition Street to John Street.

"I'm worried about that a lot," she said. "Will I have the energy to get all the way there? I'm hoping I don't stumble. ... If I sleep real well and rest, then I'll be energized in the evening."

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