This Cyclist Was Inspired to Complete an Ironman After Her Multiple Sclerosis Diagnosis

ashley norton
This MS Athlete is Training for an IronmanCourtesy Ashley Norton

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Name: Ashley Norton
Hometown: Seattle, Washington
Time Cycling: 10 months
Reason for Cycling:
I started cycling as part of my triathlete training for Ironman.

I first got into cycling when I started training for triathlons in 2022. However, I had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in 2017, so my start in both cycling and triathlons isn’t your typical scenario.

One day in 2017, both of my legs went numb. It was something I had never experienced before, and it was frightening to say the least. After several trips to the emergency room that year, I was finally diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and I honestly thought: “Okay, how can I beat this?” I didn’t fully realize what I was facing and how it would drastically change my life.

MS is a disabling and degenerative neurological disease, and there is presently no cure. The only “treatment” is medication to manage the symptoms and lifestyle changes to keep the disease at bay from taking over my body, my life, and making me fully disabled and confined to a wheelchair.

After my diagnosis, my heart was pulled to do something to show the world, and particularly those with physical and mental disabilities, that the limitations set for them aren’t always true, and with determination, possibilities are limitless. So in 2022, I made the commitment to train for an Ironman.

While I was in a hospital room in September 2022 recovering from surgery for my second pacemaker (not related to MS) I watched a program about Ironman. It was the first time I had even heard of this competition, and it felt like it was speaking to my soul.

Thankfully, my MS is stable and has handled the training demands with little to no problems. I do experience severe pain in my feet when I hit around mile 30 on the bike, and when I run.

At the beginning of my training, I started with an average of 10 to 15 hours a week cycling. I use the FulGaz app to track my indoor progress when training during the winter and off season, while using a Wahoo smart trainer.

I competed at the Lake Wilderness Triathlon in June 2023 (an Olympic distance triathlon in Maple Valley, Washington) and the Ironman 70.3 (a half Ironman) in Salem, Oregon in July 2023. I was then invited to compete at the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii in October 2023.

I am also a single mother to my beautiful 8-year-old daughter. My daughter has been with me since day one in hospital rooms and ambulances. We have made so many sacrifices as a single unit family to fight for this dream to be a reality. I want to inspire my daughter to know that even though the odds may be stacked against you, you can still inspire others and do challenging things. I also hope to spread awareness for MS so others will not suffer as badly as I have and all those before me.

Currently, I cycle Mondays, Wednesday, and Fridays for one to two hours each day, and on Saturdays three to four hours. To keep myself going, before training I make sure to get a minimum of eight hours of sleep, and I prepare my hydration and nutrition the night before while mapping out my route if training outside or selecting my route if I’m training indoors.

My training also includes using a fan, but more importantly a heater. The use of a heater during indoor training helps to simulate what the environment at Kona, Hawaii will be like.

Cycling is hard for someone like me, as I’m still learning how to operate a body with MS and perform despite the physical pain. It’s not until after cycling I feel so accomplished, and truly feel like a “normal person.” Cycling has afforded me the ability to walk and move more easily.

These three tips have made my cycling journey a success:

1. Prepare your hydration and nutrition

This is especially important for me since I have MS. I always make sure to hydrate and eat well before, during, and after my training.

2. Find or create a rocking playlist

Music is essential for my training. It helps me stay motivated. I listen to AC/DC, Blink 182, or Weezer to get pumped up. I also love listening to worship music because it keeps me grounded on how this is God’s journey.

3. Be patient and consistent

If you are patient and stay consistent, your cycling will improve—I can say from experience! It has been a long journey with a lot of adversity, yet I learned a lot about myself and what my body is capable of in order to accomplish a goal way bigger than myself.

Ashley’s Must-Have Gear

Bike-On, Greenspeed GT20 Recumbent Trike: I love the Greenspeed bike because it allows me to still compete and be up to speed, if not faster, than riding the road bike. It’s also safer for me to ride this recumbent bike given the distances involved with competing.

Infinit Nutrition: The blends from Infinit can be customized based on your training, nutrition, and recovery goals. This allows me to dial in what I’m taking to fit my life. This is a huge gift for anyone training to compete and treat their body like a well-oiled machine.

Spring Energy Gel: It took me so long to find a product that was gluten-free, dairy-free, and low in fructose and corn syrup. Since Spring Energy gels are from real foods, I get the energy and carbs needed, and there’s no postworkout crash.

KT Tape: KT Tape is the solution I had been looking for to help with my MS. It relieves tension and pain from my muscles, which makes it so much easier for me to complete the long training sessions where my muscles cramp due to the high intensity of the workouts. It’s meant to lift the superficial layers of the skin, creating space between the skin, the fascia, and underlying tissues, which is a huge issue for people with MS.

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