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Woman with Multiple Sclerosis Reaches Goal of Hiking Entire Appalachian Trail

Marcia Roland, 65, of Franklin, N.C., completes a 14-year journey while living with MS.

On Sept. 26, 2015, Marcia Roland, 65, of Franklin, N.C., crossed a footbridge over the Tye River in Virginia and walked into the welcoming arms of friends and family. The river crossing came at the end of a 10-mile hike from Reeds Gap that day – and capped a 14-year, 2,168-mile journey to hike the entire Appalachian Trail.

Marcia never missed a year on the trail. Along the way, she sought shelter from hurricanes in the mid-Atlantic and conquered the rocky hardness of Maine and New Hampshire. She also survived five surgeries for breast cancer in 2005. And she discovered that the growing numbness in her feet and her difficulty keeping balance weren’t due only to the trail: It was multiple sclerosis (MS).

In 2008, halfway through Marcia’s Appalachian Trail travels, she met with Ben Thrower, M.D., medical director of Shepherd Center’s Andrew C. Carlos MS Institute, to craft a plan of attack to control her symptoms – a holistic plan that included medication, a healthy diet and staying active. The hike continued.

“The key to doing well with MS is to have a team of doctors who listen and meet your needs,” Marcia says. “Dr. Thrower and his team are tops at that, and I am so fortunate to still have them in my circle. They taught me that I may have MS, but MS does not have me!”

She also had the support of family and friends, including her trail mate, Beth Abel. Hikers on the Appalachian Trail pick up trail names. Beth’s was Spirit; Marcia’s Smasher. In their final stretches on the trail this year, the pair stopped and talked more often to other hikers. Spirit handed out tiny wooden doves representing peace. Smasher shared multi-colored butterfly beads that symbolized new beginnings.

“For a lot of hikers, the Trail is all about finding those new beginnings, a new purpose,” Marcia says. “It was so special to connect with people from all walks of life. This whole adventure was such a challenge, of mind, body, spirit. Don’t think about what you can’t do, but what you can.”                                             

Written by Phillip Jordan

About Shepherd Center

Shepherd Center provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, traumatic amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. An elite center recognized as both Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top hospitals for rehabilitation. Shepherd Center treats thousands of patients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.