Moon resident battling multiple sclerosis uses long-distance running as avenue for advocacy
John Platt's running career started with a glance at the television.
It was June 2013, and Platt had just lost a friend to multiple sclerosis, the same disease with which he had been diagnosed less than eight years earlier. The summer heat wasn't helping.
One of the symptoms of Platt's MS is known as Uhthoff's phenomenon, meaning as his core temperature rises, he starts to lose his vision. This was beginning to take effect as a weight-loss program glowed on his television and struck a nerve.
“I'm starting to become (a) prisoner back in my air-conditioned house,” Platt remembered thinking. “I was just really unhappy.”
Platt thought of the unused treadmill in his basement, a gift from his brother, and decided to do something about the layer of dust that had accumulated on the machine.
He had used a cane for the past seven years and needed assistance from the arm rails, but he walked a mile in a half-hour.
The next day, he repeated the feat. One mile turned into several miles. He progressed to taking extended walks outside during a cool August near a family member's house in the Chicago area.
An estimated 3,500 miles later, Platt, 41, of Moon recounts the story of how he changed his life through running, dressed in his teal Boston Marathon zip-up jacket. He smiles.
“Sitting here today, I consider myself an athlete. I took an easy-A course in college called ‘walk/jog,' and I got a C,” Platt said recently. “Three world marathon majors later, maybe I can go back to Slippery Rock and see if I can get my transcript changed.”
On Sunday, less than two weeks after adding a Boston medal to his Chicago 2014 and New York 2015 hardware, he is set to run his third Pittsburgh half-marathon.
Platt is one of 2.3 million people worldwide living with MS. He said 10 years of spreading awareness and advocating on behalf of the Multiple Sclerosis Society have given him perspective, but reorganizing his life to achieve his goals has taken sacrifice.
During the summer, Platt often wakes before 3 a.m., logging miles before the sun rises. When the sun is out, he fills a skullcap and sleeves with ice before heading out. They are details Platt has perfected through trial and error, but often that error requires him to push to and beyond his limits.
On a warm Boston Marathon race day, for example, he knew his MS would flare up after 13 miles. As he coasted into an aid station at Mile 14, he already could sense his vision disappearing. A physician's assistant checked his vitals while he asked for a towel to clean off his glasses.
“She said to me, ‘You don't see the towel sitting on your lap?' ” Platt recalled.
Slowly his vision returned, and he was back on the course. Platt knew the remainder of the race would hurt, but he also knew the importance of finishing.
“I told his dad when they were leaving for the Boston Marathon, ‘Listen, no matter what, whatever he looks like, don't let him stop. That would be the worst thing that could ever happen,' ” said Platt's wife, Aimee. “I tell him just like I tell the kids, ‘If it's in your heart, do it.' ”
That message is why Aimee briefly snuck onto the New York City Marathon course last year when she saw John struggling and why John's three-year transformation into a marathon man has been so humbling for her and her daughters, Julia, 12, and Olivia, 10.
“It's really given him life because he won't not do it. He has such a purpose, and I think when he was first diagnosed, it was really hard because you lose purpose. You lose your sense of self,” Aimee said. “This has enabled him to find a sense of self. You find yourself able to dig a little bit deeper.”
So he does, for himself and for others.
With the MS Society, he has been a peer counselor and chaired government-relations committees. Platt also has used his platform to demonstrate his goal of wellness and to advocate for MS research.
“There's the education piece of, ‘I'm going to lead a full life, and there are things that I can't do, but there are so many things I can do,' ” said Anne Mageras, president of the MS Society's Pennsylvania Keystone chapter. “It's a message of hope. His message is definitely one of hope.”
Platt isn't sure which big race he will tackle next. Perhaps it will be something longer. He also has thought about completing the remainder of the world major marathons but doesn't want to be away from his family for too long.
He said he was watching a recorded NBC Sports broadcast of the Boston Marathon with his wife and daughters last week and was shocked to see the start of the mobility-impaired division televised.
There Platt was at the start line, elbows tucked, gaze fixed, his proudest athletic achievement beaming from the television.