With Each Stride Alumnus Overcomes Multiple Sclerosis
The complications often start around the 10th mile, right when Tim Burke, Esq. ’89 really starts to fatigue. First, there’s a slight scraping from his right foot. Then it’s a more substantial scuff as his ankle lags and toe drops. Before long his foot is completely betraying him, the tip of his shoe catching on the ground beneath, making each stride a gamble.
This is when Burke has to make a decision. For shorter training runs, he relents to multiple sclerosis (MS) for the day – the risk of falling is too great. Other days, he battles – fighting through the foot drops, rolling with the falls, and beating MS any way he can. “It’s small victories,” Burke says. “It’s setting goals and championing them. Being able to say, ‘OK, MS, I’ve got you here.”
Burke – now the postmaster in Dalton, a quiet community north of Scranton – wasn’t always such an avid runner. Back in 1998, he was an aspiring postal inspector whose athletic days were long behind him. But one day Burke started feeling tingling sensations in his limbs, and his right foot began to go limp – or “drop” – during walks. Burke went to the doctor and, after five months of tests, learned he had MS. “It was terrifying at the time,” Burke recalls. “You go through the, ‘Why me?’ You go through the, ‘I don’t deserve this.’ You go through all of it.”
Eventually Burke decided to fight MS by taking control of the disease. He researched MS, learning what he was up against. He then decided to battle his illness in a less conventional way. Inspired by his wife Susan’s participation in a sprint triathlon, Burke started running and was hooked. Not only was it cathartic, the physical activity made him feel better. “It became almost an obsession,” he says. “It was a way to prove to myself that I could still be active and push my limits.”
Susan says running changed her husband’s mentality. “It made him realize that he’s not disabled,” she explains. “He could do things that required a physical aspect to it.”
Before long, Burke grew bored of 5Ks, 10Ks and even sprint triathlons. He wanted a bigger challenge. His goal? The 2011 Steamtown Marathon in Scranton. Originally he didn’t tell his wife, thinking she’d stop him. But after a few weeks of training, he let her in on his secret.
“I was a little worried that he would push a little too hard and might have a relapse,” Susan says. “But you’re not going to know until you try.” When it came to race day, Susan’s worries were quickly put to rest. While other MS-free runners were dropping out around him, Tim kept plugging along.
After 4 hours and 40 minutes – roughly an hour and a half after his iPod died – Tim crossed the finish line. “Nothing will ever beat it as far as I’m concerned,” he says of the marathon. “Having my family there at the end was one of the best feelings ever. That was the highlight of the whole experience.”
Though Tim has endured ups and downs since he graduated from Scranton in 1989 – and later earned his Juris Doctorate at Loyola University New Orleans School of Law – he says his time on the Commons prepared him for the trip he’s taken. “It was by far the best time of my formative years,” he says. “The University basically instilled in me that you could do anything with faith and hard work.”
Today Tim is helping inspire others. In addition to running in Philadelphia’s Blue Cross Broad Street Run this spring, Tim shares his story with other MS patients, urging them to find their own reasons to stride forward.