Getting stronger / Multiple Sclerosis doesn’t stop Evansville resident from competing in triathlon

Evansville resident Matt Rundle hit an emotional rock bottom nearly a decade ago when he was forced to have his wife Michelle start changing his pants. 

“That was tough,” he said.

That’s how far down the mobility spectrum Multiple Sclerosis had taken him. Rundle described MS as an autoimmune disease where the body attacks itself, and Rundle’s body started self-destructing when he was misdiagnosed with transverse myelitis in 2006. His symptoms continued to get worse until his friend Steve Rupert, a doctor he sees every year, saw him rolling around in a wheelchair at the beginning of 2010.  

Rundle explained to Rupert that he couldn’t get the help he needed because no doctor had diagnosed him with Multiple Sclerosis. Rundle said MS is hard for doctors to diagnose because the symptoms and affects are different for each person. MS can hit a person’s eye, brain or spine. 

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The spine and brain is where it hit Rundle the most. Rundle calls himself lucky in the fact that he didn’t feel any pain like many other victims dealing with MS. However, the numbness in his legs began to take over to the point where he could no longer control them. 

Rundle’s body was at that point when Rupert offered help. Rundle’s symptoms had obviously gotten worse since he was diagnosed with transverse myelitis four years prior. Rupert told Rundle that symptoms of transverse myelitis should not be getting worse over time, which assured him it had to be something else. A neurologist called Rundle a day later to run some tests, and he was officially diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. 

Rundle began receiving a two-hour infusion once a month called Tysabri. That allowed him to go from a wheelchair to walking with two canes, then down to one, and he  eventually was able to take five steps by himself by the end of 2010.

Now, the 46-year old has gained enough mobility to be competing in his first triathlon. Rundle plans to be swimming, biking and running in Saturday’s Columbus Challenge Triathlon. 

Rundle has been training for this event since April. 

“I’m excited and nervous,” Rundle said. “This is my first triathlon ever, so it’s the unknown. I’ve never done a triathlon before, even when I was in a healthy state, so to do this now, I know I’m ready, but it seems insurmountable.”

Rundle has gotten much of his mobility back, which has allowed him to compete in such an extensive event, but he said the symptoms of MS still are there. Although he’s able to control it a lot better, the numbness still comes and goes at times. Going down steps are no longer an injury hazard like it was in the past, but he still has to think about it while walking down. 

When Rundle is doing things like walking down the stairs or running a long distance, he has to concentrate on telling his legs to move one after the other. This concentration is why he said the triathlon is just as much of a mental battle for him as it is a physical one. 

“It’s not an automatic thing where everyone else can say run, and everybody does it,” Rundle said. “For me, I have to tell the left leg to move, I have to tell the right leg to move, and that’s constant.”

Rundle reached the point of competing in a triathlon by trying to push the envelope on his body every summer. He is a band director at Cedar Hall Community School in Evansville, so his summers are free for him to work on his mobility. 

His wife Michelle also is going to compete in the triathlon with him. Rundle credits his milestones in his recovery to the support he has gotten from his family, friends and fellow church members. His brother Richard also helped by doing extensive research on stem cells to further understand Matt’s condition.  

“People can’t do something like this unless they have a lot of supporters,” Rundle said. “I know a lot of people who have MS are going through it alone, and it’s just very difficult to pull yourself out of that.” 

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What: Columbus Challenge Triathlon, Duathlon, 10K and 5K

When: 8 a.m. Saturday

Where: Tipton Lakes Marina

How to register: Registration will be available at the packet pickup/cookout from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. today and 6 to 7:30 a.m. Saturday at Tipton Lakes Marina.