By Sara Graydon 2018
Valerie Kline is a remarkable woman. She does everything possible to keep her mind and body sound as she adapts to a disease that threatens to steal pieces of her bit-by-bit. As she combats her Multiple Sclerosis (MS) she finds ways to continue doing the things she loves most in life.
In addition to being a wife and a cyclist, Valerie is a traveler who has always enjoyed seeking out new adventures. She enjoys visiting monasteries and considers herself to be a very spiritual person. In 2012 Valerie was diagnosed with MS and her life was drastically changed. As her disease progressed, she was forced to resign as an Occupational Therapist and has had to adjust her daily life accordingly as she continues to pursue a life of many adventures
Valerie Kline before MS
Valerie has always had a passion for being active and being outdoors. She has been an avid cyclist the majority of her life. In this photo she was participating in the Courage Classic bike ride to benefit The Children’s Hospital. She has completed this ride several times. The ride is three days long and averages about 60 miles a day. It starts at Copper Mountain and goes over Vail Pass, Fremont Pass and Swan Mountain, one pass per day. In addition to being an advocate for physical fitness, Valerie also helps others to achieve the best physical versions of themselves.
In high school, Valerie took a career exploration course and one of her matches was occupational therapy. She says she appreciated the combination of science and the creative art of living life to the fullest. However, it wasn’t until Valerie was thirty years old that she decided to pursue her degree in occupational therapy. Valerie graduated from Colorado State University (CSU) with a Bachelor of Science in Occupational Therapy in 1993 and graduated with honors from her program.
Valerie says she believes that her talents and gifts were matched with what was required of an Occupational Therapist (OT) because she is very creative and enjoys working with people. Valerie said, “I want to believe I stand for compassion, unconditional acceptance of others and being an advocate for people with disabilities.” Being an OT allowed Valerie to help rehabilitate others so that they could live their lives to the fullest. Valerie said she is very happy with her career choice.
After Valerie experienced a dramatic end to her first marriage of 17 years, she decided that she wanted to further her education. So she returned to CSU to pursue her Master’s degree in Occupational Therapy. She graduated with her Master’s in OT in 2003. Shortly after graduating, she took a job in Salida, Colorado.
While working as an OT in Salida, Valerie had an outpatient recovering from carpal tunnel surgery. The woman was a widow that was 20 years older than Valerie. During their sessions they would chat about men and different qualities they would like. Valerie had been divorced and single for six years at this point. She expressed being content and not interested in dating, but the woman was very persistent in telling Valerie about a man from her bible study class and she was also very adamant that they meet.
Valerie meets her future husband
Valerie finally agreed to meet the man, named Mark, but she decided to do it on the down-low and went to the church for a visit to check him out. It was there that Valerie saw Mark sitting next to a young girl that she recognized from her horseback riding classes. Valerie and Mark spoke briefly and that was it.
The following Saturday Valerie saw the young girl, Dorothy, at the ranch for their horseback riding lessons. She discovered that Dorothy was Mark’s niece. After their lesson Valerie spoke with Dorothy’s mother, Jennie, and told her that she had met her brother, Mark, at church. Jennie told Valerie that she and her mother would love it if Mark could find a companion.
Jennie told Valerie that Mark was a widow and that he was also very shy. She told Valerie it might take Mark a while to muster up the courage to call her. Being the outgoing woman that she is, Valerie opted to call Mark the next day.
After speaking to Mark on the phone for an hour, he finally asked her out on a date. A week later they went to dinner and Mark was visibly nervous. Valerie asked if there was anything she could do to make him feel more comfortable. Mark said, “Yes, spend more time with me.” Although Mark meant it literally, Valerie took it romantically. Valerie and Mark were married seven months later. This happened 15 years ago and Valerie says she has never been happier in a relationship.
Valerie is diagnosed with MS
Nine years into their marriage, Valerie was diagnosed with MS. Valerie said she was terrified that Mark would leave her because statistically speaking 90% of all marriages fail when one of the partners is diagnosed with a chronic disease. However, Mark had been dealing with MS long before he met Valerie. In fact, he has a very unique perspective on the matte
Valerie says she was surprised that she received a neurological diagnosis. As an OT, Valerie is quite familiar with neuro-rehabilitation as she has been taking care of patients with MS throughout her career. Valerie said, “I always thought of MS as being insidious as it steals your independence little by little.” She admits she was quite angry after being diagnosed, but it was mostly because she had just lost 100 lbs. for the second time in her life.
She had also just begun training for the Bolder Boulder the year she was diagnosed. As Valerie and Mark mentioned, Valerie experienced symptoms of MS for a while before she was actually diagnosed. Part of the reason she sought out medical attention was because while training, she would run for about two miles before her legs would become like lead weights and would no longer move for her. She also began tripping and falling. Valerie says to this day she is angrier about struggling with her weight than she is about having MS.
Two years after Valerie was diagnosed with MS she could no longer perform her routine job duties as an OT due to mobility challenges. However, she is still able to perform cognitive evaluations for patients and ergonomic evaluations for staff. As a result, she was given a new position as a Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation lead at the hospital that she works for. Under this position she manages/supports the therapy staff on a daily basis. She aids 20 therapists each day with a total staff of 50 people under her. She has been in this position for over four years and enjoys it. Valerie says occupational therapy will always be a part of who she is.
The present: Valerie copes with MS while enjoying life to the fullest
Valerie now practices what she preached as an OT for 19 years. She must practice energy conservation in the form of activity, rest, activity, rest. It takes her much more time to complete daily tasks and she must take breaks often. She also uses adaptive equipment where needed and tries to simplify her life and delegate where needed.
One of the instruments she uses is an Alinker walking bike. It allows her to go further and faster than she could previously walk. Valerie is one of the first people to own an Alinker in the U.S.A. and she loves it because she is still at eye-level with others (as opposed to being in a wheelchair). It also allows her to get around much easier while still allowing her to continue using her legs. She said that before the Alinkershe always had to worry about tripping or falling and had to plan her time very carefully and allow for rest stops in between. Now that she has her Alinker she takes it everywhere with her.
Valerie is still very much a cyclist. Although she no longer rides a fancy road bike, she enjoys leisure rides with Mark of up to 20 miles at a time on her recumbent tricycle. She also commutes to work 2–3 days a week on her recumbent and pulls her Alinker behind her in a trailer. One of her and Mark’s favorite things to do together when they travel is to research biking paths where they can ride together.
Valerie continues to do all she can to take care of her health and fitness. One of her hobbies is cooking and she leads a primarily vegan lifestyle, but calls herself a “flexatarian,” because sometimes it causes stress to try and eat vegan while on the road traveling. Stress can trigger her MS so she tries to avoid it whenever possible.
Valerie’s philosophy on life and message to others that have MS or are helping care for someone with MS
Valerie enjoys taking trips to visit monasteries and temples. Sometimes she goes alone and sometimes Mark goes with her. She believes that spiritual fitness is equally as important as physical fitness. One of her Buddhist-like philosophies is that “Life is like a coin, happy/sad, good/bad. To whatever level you are willing to feel the sad is the same level you will feel the happiness. They go hand in hand, the yin/yang of life. Everyone has something to work on or overcome and everyone has different challenges. We can’t always see what may be, but it is there.”
Valerie says that MS is an awful disease but that you shouldn’t allow it to consume your life. She tells herself she doesn’t have time to be depressed and that depression is simply anger turned inward. She encourages others to treat themselves with more compassion than giving into depression and/or anger. For her personally, she doesn’t allow herself to just sit around.
Her biggest piece of advice to those with MS is to “Accept each new chapter of your life that is continually changing and being updated and redefined and allow yourself to age with grace and dignity.” Valerie has some additional advice for those who have loved ones with MS. “Get support for yourself, take time for your own needs, and allow your loved one to struggle even if it is difficult to watch. Don’t enable and don’t help unless they ask for help. Learned helplessness is worse than MS,” she said.