Being diagnosed with a debilitating condition would be enough to devastate any person, particularly an athlete. But for Swiss runner Jasmine Nunige, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), a degenerative condition, in 2011, running the Comrades for the first time with the Nedbank Running Club was just another obstacle to surmount.
According to the National MS Society, the condition involves an immune-mediated process in which an abnormal response of the body’s immune system is directed against its central nervous system, which includes the brain and spinal cord. It can cause pain, vision loss and impaired co-ordination.
Nunige, who is 43 years old – finished the Comrades in a creditable fifth place in the women’s race in a time of six hours, 46 minutes and 21 seconds.
She told The Mercury it had been a good race until 50km, when she began experiencing stomach problems.
“That slowed me down quite a bit. I had to stop to go to the toilet, and after that I felt better again. Every race is hard at the end. I was happy to finish.”
She said she was happy with her time, but was initially concerned about how she might fare because of the high temperatures along the route.
“I was a little afraid (because of my condition). Heat is not the best when you have MS but I tried to get it away by not thinking about it.”
She said she was used to trail runs in her home country but had wanted to run the Comrades for a long time.
“It’s all road so that was a challenge. I definitely want to come back.”
Nunige, who was coached by her husband Guy, a track and field athlete, has won the 2016 La Swiss Alpine Race seven times; the 80km Eco Trail in a record time of 6 hours and 54 minutes; the Ultra Vasan 90km (Sweden) also in record time; and the Grand Trail des Templiers.
She is also a former Olympian as she represented Switzerland at the 1994 Winter Olympic Games in Lillehammer as a cross-country skier.
Running, she said, had helped her deal with her medical problems.
“It’s also good for the mind. It helps me cope.” “Running is a way of life. Through running I find inner strength for my battle against multiple sclerosis. It also helps to overcome difficult moments and to find balance between being a mom, wife and my profession (medical masseur).”
She said running was a “real passion”. “To be out in nature, feeling my body perform is just such a great experience. I am alive with each step.”