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U.S. Air Force Veteran Karla Clay was Valedictorian of her high school class. Her older sister was in school on an Air Force ROTC scholarship, and Karla followed her lead and obtained a marketing management degree that way. While in service, she was selected U.S. Air Force Commissary Service Junior Officer of the Year and achieved the rank of Captain in less than four years.

But then a shocking Multiple Sclerosis diagnosis challenged Karla with new physical and emotional lows. She noticed dizziness. Headaches. Visual color deficits. And she started stumbling. While walking with colleagues, Karla describes how she would just go “splat” on the ground. After her diagnosis she kept the reason quiet. She hadn’t yet told anyone she had MS because she didn’t know what their reaction would be.

MS is a sudden and scary diagnosis that affects your whole life. She had to stop driving, because she couldn’t press the pedals unless she picked up her knees and moved her leg back and forth manually. Karla became reclusive and stayed in her house. She didn’t have any family or friends nearby, so she stayed home alone in her bedroom for days at a time. “My world became four walls. I practically became non-existent”, she says.

Karla was always the “artsy” person; sports was not something she had even considered. So she was shocked when her doctor and some friends suggested she participate in PVA’s National Veterans Wheelchair Games, co-hosted with the VA.

She signed up for racing, javelin and bowling, and became hooked on adaptive sports, particularly strength training. “I’ve come out of my shell and met so many great people, reaped the rewards of volunteering, gotten in shape, and learned so much, especially about myself,” Karla says. “I even have three gold medals. The flame was lit in me!”

She is grateful that adaptive sports brightened her life in so many ways and introduced her to so many more people and experiences. That one small step out of her comfort zone transformed her from a self-described “wheelchair potato” to an active, medal-winning athlete.

Karla says, “If you’d told me I’d be doing all these things 10 years ago, I would’ve thought you were crazy. Getting involved with PVA changed my life.”


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