TODAY   |  March 15, 2014

Teen with MS becomes running star, wants to ‘keep running forever’

Kayla Montgomery, 18, is a high school track star at the top of her game, and dominates the competition despite a debilitating disease. She said even after her MS diagnosis she didn’t want people to think she was different, and wanted “to maintain as much normalcy in my life as I could so I kept running,” she told TODAY’s Erica Hill and Lester Holt.

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>>> when you see this high school track athlete in question, you would never guess she has a debilitating disease. kayla montgomery continues to defy expectations, running faster and faster, despite having multiple sclerosis.

>> kayla and her coach are here for the national track competition. good morning. great to have you here.

>> great to have you guys here. kayla , you're doing great so far in this competition.

>> yes.

>> overnight, you actually moved up in the 5000 meters . so, last night we went to bed, you were number 11 in the nation. this morning you're number 8 and just set a personal best.

>> yeah.

>> how are you feeling?

>> i'm really excited. i hit my goal, all i could ever ask for.

>> multiple schlerosis causes muscle weakness. you were diagnosed with it three years ago. what made you decide that you could continue to run and you wanted to continue to run?

>> i didn't want to be -- i guess i didn't want people to think i was different. i wanted to try to maintain as much, i guess, normality in my life as i could. i kept running.

>> you've kept running and you've gotten faster and faster. walk us through it. what's it like for you? when you start to run, as i understand, you can feel your legs. we see you collapse at the end of your races. what happens in that period between start and finish?

>> when i overheat, the connections in my brain don't send as accurately as i should and i lose feeling from the waist down. as i start to heat up in my race, so probably a mile or so in i start to lose feeling.

>> but you keep going.

>> yeah.

>> how?

>> i don't really focus on it. i just kind of ignore it and just focus on finishing my race and everything else.

>> well, clearly, endurance is endurance, but coach, and kayla , i'll ask you both, and i don't mean to be insensitive with this question, but because you have no feeling, is there potentially some advantage against competitors?

>> i guess there could be, but the way i see it, there really isn't as much of an advantage. sure, i can't feel the pain in the legs that other runners can, but i feel pain everywhere else, and i can't tell how fast my legs are moving or what my pace is, so i have to work in other ways to figure out my pace.

>> coach, it sounds to me like her advantage is mental, emotional and mental here.

>> absolutely. she has to overcome quite a bit, and she's the toughest competitor i've ever had up here.

>> and that obviously takes you a long way. you are going on a running scholarship in the fall. very exciting. what's next for you? what's your hope for your dream?

>> i guess keep running and improving, and hopefully, keep running forever.

>> all right, you're doing great.

>> thank you.

>> thank you so much for coming on and sharing your story. we do appreciate it.