Healthy Living

Clay Walker's Battle with Multiple Sclerosis

Clay Walker's Battle with Multiple Sclerosis

Photo source: KLReception-19 by Aggie Network

At the age of 26, it’s easy to feel eager to take on the world. At that stage in life, opportunities are waiting around every corner. Add the early success of a promising career as a musician, and the future certainly looks even brighter. Perhaps it’s this brightness than can make an unfortunate turn of events look especially dark.

Country music artist Clay Walker is an individual who knows plenty about both bright, promising futures, and dismal twists of fate. At the young age of 26, Walker, already a successful musician with several hits on the charts, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. While it would’ve been easy for Walker to succumb to his illness, instead, he chose to fight.

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His diagnosis

Walker was diagnosed with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis when he was only 26 years old. Typically, relapsing MS is a more positive diagnosis than progressive MS. Less successful treatments and therapies have been discovered for patients of progressive MS, and with relapsing MS, patients typically experiences periods when their symptoms abate or disappear entirely. While the news that he had relapsing MS and not progressive could have been a small bright spot for Walker, the prognosis he was given quickly diminished any hope.

The physician that diagnosed Walker told him that within 4 years the disease would progress to the point that he would be bound to a wheelchair, and that within 8 he would likely be dead. This was shocking news for the young musician. Not only was he working hard at developing his burgeoning musical career, but he also had a young family whom he loved. If the doctor’s prognosis had been correct, then Walker would’ve been dead by the time he was only 34. Thankfully, that doctor’s prognosis was incorrect.

With the help of his physician, Dr. Jerry Wolinsky, Walker began a therapy designed to counteract the effects of multiple sclerosis. At this point, the treatment has been incredibly successful and Walker has actually been free of MS-related symptoms for nearly 19 years. In that time, Walker has been constantly reminded both of how fortunate he is, and of the fact that if he wants to continue pursuing the things he values most, he’ll have to keep fighting.

Walker’s outlook on MS and life

When Walker discusses his outlook on dealing with multiple sclerosis, he makes quite a few references to golf. Although Walker is best known for hits like “What’s It to You,” and “Live Until I Die,” he’s also an accomplished golfer and has competed annually at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. It was actually during a golf game not long after he was diagnosed with MS that Walker had a realization about the disease. The doctors had put a catheter in his arm in order to administer steroid treatment to fight the disease. As he was pulling back his arm to take a swing at the golf ball, Walker could feel the catheter in his arm. It was at this moment that Walker knew that if he wanted to continue living, and if he wanted to continue the things that he loved doing and that he was passionate about, he was going to have to fight against this disease tooth and nail.

Ironically, Walker actually wrote and recorded, “Live Until I Die,” prior to being diagnosed with MS and receiving his unfavorable prognosis. In the song, Walker croons about growing up in a small town. In one of the verses he even says, “I don't worry 'bout things that I can't change,” before going on in the chorus to sign again, “I just want to live until I die.” It may seem that Walker’s sincerity in these words was put to the test when he was diagnosed with MS. While a condition like multiple sclerosis is often out of our control in many ways, Walker wasn’t content to throw his hands in the air and surrender. Instead, he looked for the things that he could do both to improve his own wellbeing and the wellbeing of others, and he made sure that he took intentional positive steps in those directions. Above all, he continued doing things he loved, even in the face of predicted death.

Walker has continued to golf since then and notes that his friendship with the late golfer RJ Harper had a drastic impact on his outlook. He noted that Harper always had an emphasis on structure. Structure was both important to organizing the annual Pebble Beach tournament that Harper was involved in and also an important value and practice in learning to play the game of golf well. Walker’s taken that value of structure and learned how to apply it to other areas of his life as well. Notably, he’s taken the idea of structure and made sure to lean on it in the charitable work that he’s been active in since being diagnosed with MS.

Impact on Walker’s life

At this point we can’t be entirely sure what Clay Walker’s legacy is, because he’s still working tirelessly to benefit the multiple sclerosis community. But it’s easy to see that Walker has already made an enormous impact through his work. After being diagnosed with the disease, Walker founded Band Against MS, a charity dedicated to raising funds for MS research. He’s also used events like “Give MS the Boot” concerts and a yearly gold tournament at Pebble Beach to raise millions of dollars for funding research into finding a cure for MS.

It would be easy for Walker to be involved in fundraising for multiple sclerosis research and call it a day, but he’s done nothing of the sort. In addition to his fundraising activities, Walker has also been working on an app with development company AirStrip to help MS patients. Essentially, the platform would provide a space in which both doctors working to treat MS and patients looking for help could connect with each other from across the globe. The hope is that through increased connection and communication there would be more discourse and ideally more results for patients who are fighting the disease, just like Walker. While the app is still in development, it’s certainly showing promise with many prominent physicians getting on board.

Final thoughts

When Clay Walker was told at the young age of 26 that he had approximately 8 years left to live, 4 of which would likely be spent in a wheelchair, he was completely stunned. Up to that point the young country star had a promising musical career, a family to whom he was committed and whom he loved, and a love for the game of golf that he didn’t intend to sacrifice any time soon. Being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, whether relapsing or progressive is life changing for any individual, and it certainly changed Walker’s life. His diagnosis quickly turned into resolve to fight MS both in his own life and on a broad scale.

Now, 19 years later, Walker has been fortunate to live symptom free. He’s continue his successful career as a musician, been able to watch his children grow, and raised millions of dollars for research into MS in order to help find a cure for the disease. Walker’s effect is both tangible, and a source of inspiration for others also fighting this same battle.

Read more about Clay Walker at Golf Digest.