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Gillsville woman fights MS with exercise, diet regimen
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Lisa Sims presses a dumbbell over her head at Max Results Training in Gainesville on Friday, June 1, 2018, where she trains four days a week. Since she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1997, Sims lost a significant amount of strength in the right side of her body. After training with Harris for almost three years, she has regained most of her strength and keeps pushing herself physically. - photo by David Barnes

Lisa Sims was told she was paralyzed from the waist down in 1997. She was told she would never walk again. She was told she had multiple sclerosis, an incurable disease that causes the body’s immune system to attack the central nervous system.

She never accepted that reality, though. For the next 15 years, she tried medication after medication — some of which were in lethal doses — and steroids. She said they helped some and she could walk slowly, which made her happy. But in 2012, she looked at herself and didn’t feel the same way anymore.

“I had gained a lot of weight taking medication for the MS,” said Sims, 56, who lives in Gillsville. “And with that weight gain, I was really tired all the time.”

That’s when she started Weight Watchers, where she lost 50 pounds in one year. She said she didn’t have the strength she wanted, though, so she tried out Pilates for a couple years after that. She said it was good, and it helped, but she needed something more to keep the weight off while gaining strength at the same time. 

“I just started doing my research,” Sims said.

That research led her to online success stories from Max Results Training, a private training studio with locations in Gainesville, Oakwood and Cumming. But she said owner Jim Harris had never worked with someone who had MS before. So he had to start doing research of his own.

“There’s no blueprint for how you work with someone with a particular affliction, especially MS, because MS has such a wide variety of symptoms,” Harris said. “You could have 15 people in a room that all have MS and none of them share a single symptom. So training someone with MS is very painstakingly slow and deliberate.”

Before Sims went to Max Results Training, she said she couldn’t even lift her foot onto an aerobics step. But as she continued to work with Harris, she slowly began to see results. Each training session, she could do a little more than the one before. And the diet plan Harris put her on helped her lose more weight and keep it off.

“Her right side was affected to a point where it was about 15 percent strength-wise compared to her left side,” Harris said. “She can now step up with both legs on an 18-inch platform with 60 pounds.”

She got so used to working out and training with Harris, she said it became a part of her daily routine. She didn’t even think about it. It just became her new normal.

That is, until Harris asked her to run. She hadn’t run for years and didn’t think her legs could work like that. She put it off and kept telling Harris she wasn’t going to do it, but she eventually gave in.

“She was determined to not let MS beat her,” Harris said. “But she was not quite sure how to go about it and not 100 percent sure she could do it. But the ‘want’ was there, definitely. And her actions have proven that she definitely had the desire.”

Things started off easy. She ran for 30 seconds at a time. Before she knew it, she was running for a mile, and she actually enjoyed it.

“Running became fun, and I thought I could really do this,” Sims said.

So she set a New Year’s resolution in 2016. Her goal, after joining a running club, was to run 2,016 miles that year. She wasn’t confident she could do it, but she did. She finished 2,016 miles on Oct. 31 and ended the year with a total of 2,550 miles.

And the next year, her new goal was to run a half marathon. The only thing is, the same day she wrote down that goal, she completed it on the treadmill because she had nothing better to do. She ended up running one half marathon a month and finished the year with 2,700 miles.

Sims still has bad days, though. She recently had an episode where she couldn’t get out of bed for three days.

“Over 21 years you just learn how to live with it,” Sims said. “Everybody with MS experiences fatigue. That is the main symptom that everyone has ... It shuts your body down.”

Even through that, Harris said she hasn’t missed a single session since he first met her. He said she realizes the importance of her exercise and makes it a priority.

“Had I not been with Jim for the last three years, there’s no doubt in my mind that I would be walking with a cane or wheelchair,” Sims said. “Because that whole right side was going. But now I can keep up with the best of the best.”