All athletes face setbacks at some point, including Natasha Mayton, 44. For her, it’s been illness, not injuries, that have held her back at times — though shin splints and IT band issues derailed her initial attempts to embrace running. However, like any great athlete, she’s always found a way to overcome. 

A Memphis resident for nearly two decades, the supply chain project manager was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in 2017, just three years after she picked up running in memorial of her father, who loved the sport and was an avid cyclist. The disease, which affects the brain and central nervous system, can cause fatigue, numbness, pain, vision problems, paralysis, and more, with symptom severity and longevity varying among patients. “I didn’t notice any changes to my running for a year and a half after the diagnosis,” Natasha says. 

Working With Her New Reality

In 2018, just two weeks after completing the Chicago Marathon and a few months after achieving her best marathon time ever of 4 hours and 45 minutes at the Little Rock Marathon, she had her first major MS flare-up. She began experiencing foot-dragging while running a half marathon in Louisville, Kentucky. Never one to give up, Natasha says, “I literally rubbed the left corner of the shoe down because I kept pushing through and didn’t know why that was happening.” When she told her neurologist about the problem, their solution was to provide pain medicine. “It wasn’t painful; it was just a lack of control,” Natasha says. Eventually, as the issue continued on and off throughout the year, she realized she needed to embrace a run/walk combination to continue running long distances.

The change helped her do just that, and 2018 also became the year she began her run streak, challenging herself to run at least 1 mile every day for 365 days. Since then, she has worked to distinguish between knowing when to persevere on her own and when to turn to experts for help.

“I have completed over five full marathons, over 50 half marathons, and dozens of races and events of shorter distances.”

Natasha faced another ugly flare-up in November 2020 when her MS caused her to collapse at the finish line of the Big River Crossing Half Marathon. “That is when I turned all my attention to my MS. I couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t able to continue running and realized it was my MS. 

I attribute this revelation to Dr. Sara Michael of 901 Physical Therapy. I was two years into my run streak at the time and continued for nearly another year,” Natasha says.

In addition to knowing when to get help, Natasha has also had to figure out which type of help serves her best. “I spun my wheels seeking out treatment from physical therapists, orthopedists, [and] neurotherapists, before finally landing with a kinesiologist that provided me with a treatment plan that helped me continue my running journey pain-free,” she says. She now manages her MS and running goals by working with John Nelson. At Elite Level Performance, the kinesiologist uses various techniques to help Natasha build and maintain her strength, including pressure work, Neubie® electrical stimulation to energize muscles, kinesiology tape on her ankle, and balance exercises. 

Currently, Natasha is feeling strong and capable. She says, “I have completed over five full marathons, over 50 half marathons, and dozens of races and events of shorter distances.” Hoping to finally finish the third round of her run streak this year, she also attends classes at HOTWORX and incorporates fun movement through kickball and community yoga. Support from the Run A Myelin My Shoes community founded by Cheryl Hile has also been an impactful part of Natasha’s journey. 

Pushing Forward

Ready to return to what she calls her “glory days,” Natasha has multiple half marathons lined up, including both Lane Purser Memorial Road Race Series half marathons, the St. Jude Memphis Half Marathon, and the Kiawah Island Marathon & Half Marathon. 

Whether it’s a mile or a marathon, the feelings of strength and accomplishment that come from finishing whatever distance she’s set out to run are what Natasha says continue to motivate her. 

By Alexandra McCray
Photo by Tindall Stephens