Meet Walk MS Des Moines Ambassador Melissa Shelabarger, diagnosed in 2009
Melissa Shelabarger, this year’s Walk MS Des Moines Ambassador, is an active volunteer and fundraiser for the National MS Society and is committed to raising awareness about multiple sclerosis in her community and beyond.
In what way has MS made the biggest impact on your life?
Being diagnosed with MS has taught me more about myself and how I handle situations than I ever imagined it could. I have learned to listen to my body and monitor my mind more closely.
Why did you decide to participate in Walk MS?
I take any opportunity I have to help raise funds and awareness about this illness. I never even knew what MS was until my diagnosis, and it turns out that several people in my family have it as well and never told anyone. I decided early on in with my diagnosis that I didn’t want to be quiet about my MS. I wanted to be a voice and let people know that MS is out there and it’s real.
What’s your favorite thing about Walk MS?
My favorite thing about Walk MS is all of the amazing people you get to meet including those living with MS, relatives, co-workers and neighbors. All of these people gather to help raise awareness about this disease that affects so many! It’s great to meet new people and share stories. I’ve even been able to help a few people with tough times and get some inspiration of my own.
How many years have you participated in the event?
I have been participating as a walker or a volunteer for four years now, immediately after my diagnosis in 2009.
Are you involved in the National MS Society in other ways besides Walk MS?
I volunteer on the Walk MS Committee, and I also help with organizing the volunteers for the Des Moines area.
What is one thing you wish people could understand about MS?
MS affects everyone differently. We don’t all have difficulty walking or cognitive issues, but we all experience the mental and emotional ups and downs of dealing with the diagnosis, dealing with side effects from medicines and most certainly relapses. You may not be able to SEE my struggles, but they are there.
What is the most important, meaningful or memorable connection you have made since being diagnosed with MS or having someone close to you diagnosed?
Since I was diagnosed with MS in 2009, I think the most important thing that has happened was when I decided to respond to an email about volunteers, and ended up on the Walk MS Des Moines Committee. I have met so many amazing and inspirational people through this committee that there is no way I could choose just one!
What makes you a great walk ambassador?
I’m not afraid to share my story. I think it’s important for people to realize that the person next to them on the street may be facing an invisible illness. I think we should teach people not to judge. That lady who looks young in the store who is using a motorized cart may not be lazy, she may have severe pain. The more we share, and the more we get the information out there — the more aware people will become!
What makes your story with MS unique?
EVERYONE’s story with MS is unique. I think that’s one of the wonders about the disease and why we have to fight so hard for more research. I think learning to be a single mom and handle relapses while being a parent was the most difficult and challenging thing for me. I’m very blessed to have wonderful family and friends who have helped me.
Melissa may be reached for interviews at email@example.com. To speak with a National MS Society, Upper Midwest Chapter spokesperson, please contact Anna at 612-335-7918 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Walk MS 2013
Join Melissa and thousands of others by getting involved in Walk MS. To learn more, register or donate, visit myMSwalk.org.