In her debut documentary, filmmaker Heather Jeff offers a unique perspective of life as a triathlete with Multiple Sclerosis.
After being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) in 14 years ago, Heather Jeff has been thriving as a triathlete and distance runner. But when she sought out similar stories of others maintaining an active lifestyle with MS, the Falls Church, Va. mom of two discovered a surprising lack of resources. Here, Jeff explains how this void compelled her to create a documentary Living, With MS, offering a unique perspective of four people with MS—Jeff, two other triathletes, and a professional basketball player—achieving their athletic dreams despite it all. Here, Jeff shares more about the film and how she hopes it will shift the dialogue surrounding the often disabling disease.
Triathlete.com: Tell us what inspired you to write and produce Living, With MS.
Heather Jeff (HJ): When I was diagnosed in early 2002, everything I read online was very stark and scary. There were no stories of hope, just that you have it forever and prepare for the worst. That’s just not a real representation of what this is really all about. There are so many misconceptions when it comes to MS and I wanted to change that message. I have no background in filmmaking, but I knew it would be the perfect vehicle to get my voice out there, and the challenge appealed to me.
Triathlete.com: Clearly, you’re not afraid of challenges, given that you compete in long-distance races and triathlons. Does MS impact you in any way as an athlete?
HJ: I’m lucky in that, right now, the only thing I notice is that I need more rest than most of my training partners. If my mileage gets high, I will have pretty severe fatigue. The other women featured in the film, Kate Morse and Theresa Urban are both Ironman athletes and have gone through much, much worse. Kate, for example, had an extreme flare up in the lead up to Lake Placid. With medication, the symptoms will subside, so fortunately, she was able to finish the race.
Triathlete.com: Has being so active helped keep your symptoms at bay?
HJ: Completely. My doctor is always pleasantly surprised that my condition has remained status quo for so long. We believe it’s my life choices—not only diet and exercise, but being connected to a strong community of runners and triathletes—keep me healthy. It’s to the point that my boss didn’t even know I had MS until very recently. I don’t make a big deal about it and I definitely do not define myself with an illness. The others in the film feel the same way.
Triathlete.com: Why do you think that MS doesn’t generate as much buzz as, say, cancer?
HJ: Someone once said to me, “MS just isn’t sexy” and for whatever reason it’s true: It just doesn’t get as much play or funding as other diseases. Maybe it’s because people with MS are generally quiet about it. That’s why I’m hoping to start a broader conversation about the disease.
Triathlete.com: What would you like people to take away from Living, With MS?
HJ: I’d like for it to change the way they think about MS and those dealing with it. We are not sad, broken people. We’re living life to the fullest! I also hope that the film will serve as a vehicle for people to continue to share their stories and journeys with MS. If anything else, I just want to populate one little corner of the internet with hope. So that those who are newly diagnosed are not faced with a bleak prognosis but rather inspired by stories of people living with MS—and having very good lives.
For more details on the film and to follow Jeff’s journey, check out her blog at Findyourinnerpace.com.