Heather McAlinn: Fighting MS Through Fitness (Part 1 of 2)

Heather McAlinn

We all have our obstacles to overcome and our battles to fight, but every once in awhile you hear about someone and you can’t help but be incredibly inspired.  When I first heard about Heather McAlinn I felt that her story had to be shared with the world.

After being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in July 2017, instead of rolling over and calling it quits, she decided to fight.  Being an incredible athlete, Heather has channeled her strengths in fitness and endurance to help fight the symptoms of MS. The more she moves, the more the symptoms subside, and believe me... she’s on the move.

I recently got a chance to ask Heather a few questions, and her responses will inspire you and eliminate any limiting beliefs you are currently holding onto.

Heather, how did you get started doing endurance races? 

“After doing several 5k runs and obstacle course races, I decided to do the Rocky Run in Philly. The race takes place in November every year. The race was a standard 10k near the Art Museum.  The weather conditions were terribly windy and extremely cold. I felt so good about my accomplishment.

Heather McAlinn

I couldn’t believe I got through it...

with the strong wind gusts and I didn’t give up! After that race, I signed up for an Olympic Triathlon with four other amazing fitness friends.

How old were you when you started competing?

“I participated in obstacle course races in my early 30’s. Then I gradually began running races of longer distance.”

What motivates you? 

“My daughter motivates me. As a Mom, I think about the impact I have on her and try to teach her to be the best version of herself. I am far from perfect.

Trench Sports - Heather McAlinn

My goal is to lead by example as much as possible.

I highlight my mistakes as well as successes.”

You mentioned that your true passion is martial arts.  What discipline do you train in?

“I love Muai Tai style kickboxing. I also studied Tang Soo Do Karate.  Tang Soo Do is a Korean Martial Art.  Students learn various kicks, forms, sparring, punches, and strikes.

I’m currently a red belt in Tang Soo Do. After being diagnosed with MS,  I decided to take a temporary break from martial arts to focus on triathlon training. I really miss sparring.
I am not permitted to spar anymore due to an eye problem (optic neuritis) associated with my MS.”

How long have you been training kickboxing?

“Started taking kickboxing classes 2010 and began instructing kickboxing in 2013. It's my favorite workout. It is great for all over body conditioning”

What are other things that you do, not at a competitive level but love doing?

“Instructing kickboxing. I really love teaching others and helping them reach fitness goals. I managed a kickboxing studio.  Witnessing my clients make progress was

Trench Sports - Heather McAlinn

...more rewarding to me than the paycheck...

at the end of the week.

They always worked so hard and made me proud. Everyone has a story, a reason why they want to get in better shape. The personal stories and struggles these people were going through made me want to help them achieve success. I cared about each and every client and knew them all by name.”

What sports do you compete in?

“Running Races: 5k, 10k, 10 mile, 13.1 mile half marathon, 26.2 mile marathon.
I have also completed numerous obstacle course races and mud runs.
Triathlons - Olympic (plus) distance, 70.3 half distance, and currently training for Full Ironman 140.6 mile distance."

Some people think that competing in such extreme environments is crazy, what is it about these races that you love most?  What do you say to the people that think you’re crazy?

“I agree with those that feel it is crazy haha! I feel great knowing that I can accomplish anything I really put my mind to. The human body is really amazing and when you train properly, anything is possible. You need to stay strong mentally.

Trench Sports - Heather McAlinn

The body achieves what the mind believes.”

When were you diagnosed with MS and what triggered you finding out?

“I was diagnosed in July 2017.  I woke up with loss of vision in my right eye and color blindness. I went to my eye doctor and he said my eye health was fine. He asked me if anyone in my family had MS. I replied no. I was diagnosed with optic neuritis. He sent me home and said it should get better on it’s own within a few weeks. A few days later, it got worse. I was hospitalized and put on IV steroids for a few days. Then after a few MRI’s, they determined I had MS.”

How has it changed your perspective on training and life?

“I appreciate nature more when I run. I used to listen to music when I ran in the park. Now I listen to my feet hitting the pavement, birds in the sky, and the sound of my breathing. I listen to my body more when I workout. I used to push through a workout no matter what. Now I back it down if I don’t feel right. I don’t want to go back to the hospital. I try to stay as healthy as I can and care for myself. 

Trench Sports - Heather McAlinn

...Everyday is a blessing!”

How have you changed your training since being diagnosed?

“I was forced to pay more attention to myself when I workout. I experience pseudo exacerbations when I sweat. For example, I lose vision in my right eye when I am overheated and I see blurry out of the left eye at times. After I cool off, it all comes back. This scared me a lot at first. Now I am slowly getting acclimated.

I also have numbness and aches and pains.  This ebbs and flows.”

How has being diagnosed with MS affected you mentally, physically, emotionally?

“My life has changed a lot. I have good and bad days. Mentally, I am pretty strong but I have my moments. I am a little more emotional. I feel things more and appreciate small things in life.

Trench Sports - Heather McAlinn

I've realized the small things really are the big things.

Physically, I experience bouts of dizziness every day. I don’t see well out of my right eye. I also have aches, pains, extreme fatigue, and numbness in limbs. I am thankful every day that I am able to be physically active. I am also thankful that I can get out of bed and walk. I appreciate more in my life. I try to really live in the moment.

On the flip side, I can feel really bad one day and run 10 miles the next day like I am perfectly healthy. Often this disease appears invisible in me.”

This is the end of the first half of my interview with Heather.  Until the second half comes out shortly, connect with Heather via Instagram and check out her sponsor info below.  Heather is also raising money for the National Stem Cell Foundation through her Ironman Foundation page, donate today!


Trench Sports - Heather McAlinn

Connect with Heather

Instagram: @heather_kickstart_fitness

Heather McAlinn - Ironman Foundation
Donate to Heather's cause now.  Click here for the Ironman Foundation's page to raise money for the National Stem Cell Research Foundation.

Heather's Sponsors

 Heather McAlinn - TriDot

Heather McAlinn - Just Strong