An 18-year-old North Carolina teen from Mount Harbor High School has become one of the nation’s top female runners with an unusual running style: After the end of every race, she immediately collapses into the arms of her coach. The title-winning athlete, Kayla Montgomery, says her legs go numb, she loses control, and collapses every time she runs because she has multiple sclerosis (MS). After being diagnosed with the condition three years ago, the high school track star decided to race until otherwise unable because she considers her mobility a gift. 

Kayla Montgomery wins state title with MS Kayla Montgomery, teen runner with MS, is 21st in the country. Photo courtesy of WXII 12 News.

“I don't know how much longer I will be able to run. I don't want to waste the fact that I'm able to right now,” Montgomery told the NY Daily News. Before MS, the teen was one of the slowest runners on her team, but she channeled her energy to enhance her track career despite her diagnosis. Montgomery’s motivation has led her to improve her race time by eight minutes in the last four years. She won the North Carolina state title in the 3,200 meters with a time of 10 minutes 43 seconds, ranking her as 21st in the country. 

Kayla Montgomery running in a race Kayla Montgomery running in a race. Photo courtesy of WXII 12 News.

The high school runner does not receive any special treatment as she trains with the boys team at her school. Montgomery has also downplayed her condition, which has led to few people understanding her unusual racing finishes. According to The New York Times, in the national indoor 5,000-meter championship last year, the officials forgot to catch the teen, and she fell on her face, lying flat on the track until she was carried away. The announcers at the match originally thought she had a seizure, fainted, or was simply a “wimp.”

Kayla Montgomery collapsed after crossing the finish line Kayla Montgomery collapsed after crossing the finish line. Photo courtesy of WXII 12 News.

Montgomery’s coach, Patrick Cromwell, recognizes his runner’s tenacity, and recalled what she told him as soon as she was diagnosed with MS. “Coach, I don’t know how much time I have left, so I want to run fast — don’t hold back,” he said. “That’s when I said, 'Wow, who are you?'" 

The runner can move at steady speeds and not feel the pain usually associated with running, which can give her an athletic advantage. This occurs because MS blocks the nerve signals from Montgomery’s legs to her brain, which causes her legs to go numb while she races. Stopping, however, makes her lose control, triggering weakness and instability. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society says it’s important for MS patients to improve their muscle strength and fitness to help with mobility or weakness problems — running can help with the range-of-motion.