Beth Kantor, 42, now knows what it really means to get down in the dirt.
For the past four years, she’s volunteered as a first-aid assistant at the annual Twin Cities MuckFest, a fundraising event that the National Multiple Sclerosis Society organized in suburban Minneapolis.
But this year, Kantor decided it was time to go all the way. Overcoming fatigue, physical pain and her own hesitation after 11 years living with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis, she and many other “muckers” slithered, crawled and sloshed their way through five kilometers of obstacles and mud pits.
In the process, MuckFest 2017 in the Twin Cities and other metropolitan areas around the nation are raising millions of dollars for MS research.
“I loved every second of it — every bruise, every muddy moment,” she said, recalling the Aug. 19 event. “That was earned fatigue. It wasn’t just fatigue because of my MS. I did something to earn that fatigue. That’s not something a lot of people with MS can say.”
Kantor is a mother of two girls and two boys. She spoke to MS News Today from her home in Plymouth, just west of Minneapolis, and not far from the Scott County Fairgrounds where MuckFest took place.
A Minnesota native, Kantor earned a bachelor’s degree from the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth in 1998. She started out in a cardiac ICU, then worked in bereavement and donations for the Red Cross. Her last job was as a nurse-clinician at the University of Minnesota’s blood and marrow transplant program.
In 2004, after caring for children and adults in severe pain, she began experiencing fatigue and leg pain herself.
“They were pretty vague symptoms, so I went from doctor to doctor — endocrinologists, rheumatologists, that sort of thing — trying to figure out what they were stemming from,” she said. “The fourth doctor, a neurologist, figured out what it was. He looked at my past MRIs and said they just missed it.”
Her relapsing-remitting MS diagnosis in 2007 forced her to quit nursing forever.
“I was dragged out by my fingernails,” she recalled. “I was going to work in a wheelchair, in a unit where you needed to be sterile. I couldn’t give them full-time work and they really needed a full-time person. So I became a disabled stay-at-home mom by necessity.”
After trying various medications, Kantor was put on Tecfidera (dimethyl fumarate) — a twice-daily pill — in 2013. Since then, she’s had no active lesions and no new lesions. Her MS comes and goes, but does not get progressively worse.
“I’ve looked at Ocrevus,” she said, referring to a medication that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved earlier this year for both relapsing forms of MS and primary progressive MS. “But when you have something that’s working well, it’s hard to change the recipe.”
Meanwhile, Kantor has found other ways of caring for her community. She began helping out as a first-aid assistant at fundraising walks for MS, breast cancer and other causes. Five years ago, she got involved with the MuckFest, mostly as a first-aid volunteer, “until they outsourced the medical part,” she said.
This year, Kantor and her 16-year-old daughter volunteered at the registration tent, and Kantor decided it was time to actually participate in the MuckFest. The slimy, slithery event features 20 or so mud-caked obstacles with names like Spider Web, Tunnel of Love, Walk on Water, Dragon Crawl, and Muck Off.
“I always wanted to do this, but never thought I could,” Kantor said. Nearing collapse, she recalled, “I was standing next to a guy who said, ‘If you’re so tired, why don’t you just disqualify yourself?’ I just looked at him and said, ‘You can’t disqualify yourself from MS.’ After that, I was not going to not finish.”
Kantor added: “I crawled away from the finish line. It was quite physically challenging. My daughter drove me home, and I slept for the next two days.”
Despite her MS challenges, Kantor says she’ll continue to help out with, and participate in, MuckFests as long as she can.
“You just find ways to give back, because, as Eleanor Roosevelt said, the day you stop giving back is the day you start dying,” she said. “That’s kind of my motto. You can never stop giving back.”