Teacher: It’s not a death sentence

MILFORD – To watch Kani Nicodemus lead an early morning indoor cycling class, you would think she is as healthy as any of the other Hampshire Hills spinning teachers.

She calls out encouragement to the cyclers throughout the 50-minute class and never seems to get out of breath as she sprints and climbs hills.

But after class you might notice she is careful walking down the stairs because her left leg gets fatigued during the intense workout.

That’s because Kani has multiple sclerosis – a chronic, incurable disease of the central nervous system.

This month she is spreading the word about the disease, which disrupts communication between the brain and the rest of the body and is believed to occur when the immune system attacks the insulation around nerve fibers,

The 48-year-old fitness teacher lives in Milford and works as a pension-plan communications analyst for the Xerox Corp. but many know her from her early morning spinning classes.

March is MS Awareness Month and she wants everyone, especially fellow MS suffers, to know there are ways around the disease and they can keep moving, keep trying to stay fit.

She is vocal about MS in her classes, where she shares MS “fun facts,” such as the names of famous people, like Annette Funicello, Jack Osborne and Teri Gar, who have the disease.

Kani was diagnosed when she was 33 after suffering bad headaches. As it turned out, the headaches were not the result of MS, but the MRI showed lesions in her brain that led to the diagnosis.

In the 1990s the only option for MS patients was injectable drugs, and they were not an option for Kani, who has a phobia about needles. So she used exercise and diet as part of an all-around healthy lifestyle to keep the symptoms under control.

But then Food and Drug Administration began approving oral drugs, and two years ago she began taking a drug called Aubagio, and the following year her annual MRI showed no new brain lesions.

The trim, petit brunette has become something of a poster girl for MS. In February the drug’s maker, Genzyme Corp., flew her to Arizona to make a video of her doing yoga.

When Hampshire Hill’s staff learn of members who have MS they tell them about Kani, who is glad to talk to them. One woman, she said, told her she thought the diagnosis meant she couldn’t exercise.

Along with spinning, yoga, Pilates, horseback riding, swimming and strength training are all good for MS patients, and all can be done at different fitness levels.

For Kani, the MS meant she had to stop teaching other group classes, like Body Pump and Body Combat, since she sometimes experiences “drop foot,” when the muscles in her left foot disengage. But spinning is good because she can let the right foot take over the pedaling.

Two years ago she went on a 25-mile “Bike MS” ride in Bar Harbor, Maine. It took her more than four hours and with many rest breaks, but she did it.

“One thing I want everyone to know, is that it’s not a death sentence,” she said, it’s a question of “doing what you can and knowing your limits.”

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or kcleveland@cabinet.com.