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Learning About MS and Getting Dirty to Help: Our Chat with Peter Hopkins

Apr 4, 2012, 10:40 AM EDT

We interviewed a former MuckRucker about his experience in dealing with MS and we learned more about the disease and the race. Click here to learn more and join our team.

As part of our partnership with the National MS Society in an attempt to help bring awareness to and encourage people to get involved with the MuckRuckus MS Philly, we’ll be talking with a number of people whose lives are affected by MS on a daily basis and who have also been involved with the MuckRuckus MS Philly in years past. We’re hoping you can JOIN US in participating in this year’s run on June 9th in Newtown Square. You can sign up to join The700Level.com team to run alongside us here, and if you’d rather just donate to help a good cause that is also appreciated.

Admittedly, we were initially a bit intimidated by the idea of running 5 miles through mud and obstacles but after chatting with today’s interview subject, Peter Hopkins, he helped us turn that intimidation into excitement.

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Peter is a 53-year-old Church Choir Director and musician at St. Peter’s Church at 3rd and Pine Streets in Philadelphia — “not exactly a profession you’d equate with mud running,” he says. Neither is “professional sports blogger” for that matter.

Peter’s wife, Paula, was diagnosed with primary-progressive MS in 2005 and he viewed the MuckRuckus as a fun way to try and show support for her and the many others fighting the often invisible disease. We spoke with him on Tuesday about both MS and his experiences running through the mud.

Enrico: From my experiences, a lot of people don’t seem to fully understand what Multiple Sclerosis is exactly. Having dealt with it on a daily basis, how do you explain what it is to those unfamiliar?

Peter Hopkins: The big problem with MS is that it’s usually invisible. The person having the problem, unless they’re incredibly severe and they’re out in public, you’d never see them like that. If they’re really sick and feeling the symptoms then they withdraw from public. MS limits your ability to move in many, many different ways. It’s different in different people. Some people lose the ability to walk or to walk very well. Some people lose the ability to stay standing up for very long which limits their ability to do things. Most people with MS are very intolerant of heat. For you, you might think a nice 80 degree day might be beautiful outside, but for someone with MS, they can’t go outside, they’ve got to stay in the air conditioning.

It’s almost all invisible. There are no sores on their body or you don’t look different. That’s one of the hard things for people to understand, that they don’t see the see the symptoms like many other diseases. For most people with MS the symptoms come and go. My wife has the kind where the symptoms are always there. For some people you may go several months without symptoms. Normally when a person is feeling all of the symptoms of weakness and things, that’s when they stay home and kind of withdraw from company for a while until they feel better again. So the next time you see them they look normal again and sometimes they actually feel normal too. That’s one of the hardest things about MS is that the symptoms come and go for most people and that they’re almost all invisible.

Enrico: How did you get involved with the MuckRuckus?

Peter: I had been kind of interested in the concept before I even saw the MS one. My own story was that I never exercised in my life. I was a severely obese person for most of my life. I used to weigh about 300 pounds. Finally at about age 48 I decided to get really serious about things and I got a trainer and lost most of that weight. I saw something on the Internet about the mud run and it looked interesting and it kind of snowballed from there. We got other people doing it, started fundraising, started having fundraising boot camps.

Enrico: I’m going to attempt to do the MuckRuckus this year but I’m a little intimidated and a little (a lot) out of shape. Do you have any advice for people like me?

Peter: It’s easy to be intimidated, but one of the nice things about this MuckRuckus is that it is true that almost anyone can do it. It’s about 5 miles but you don’t run that whole time non stop. You can’t. You have to stop and do the various obstacles and things that are in it. There’s some built in rest. And next, virtually all of the obstacles and especially the more difficult ones, you can just decide not to do that one. There are a couple of obstacles that involve ropes and heights and you can just decide you don’t want to do those. You can just walk around them. Three-quarter of the people are in the non-competitive division and you do what you want. I force myself to do all of them including the couple that really freaked me out the first time. You’ll find you can do a lot more of them.

Enrico: You’ve done the MuckRuckus a couple times now, is there a certain obstacle or a moment that sticks out the most?

Peter: You get to let out your inner 8-year-old boy. I’m not sure that works as well for the girls, but a lot of them enjoy it to. You just get to be filthy. It’s pretty hilarious. How often do you get to be absolutely covered in mud and dirt in front of thousands of other people doing the same thing. There’s something kind of freeing about that part of it.

Enrico: What kind of people typically run in this event?

Peter: There are all ages out there. It’s not just people in their twenties who are super fit personal trainers. There’s every kind of person out there. There are people that are far older than me.

Enrico: Is your wife appreciative of the effort you and all the other runners put in?

Peter: Oh yeah. We have a good time with it. So many people know her and know about her struggle and how she keeps working. She’s a musician as well and admire her for it. So I’ve gotten a lot of donations, not because of me but because of her. She’s the one that works harder than I do everyday just to be mobile and to do things. With MS it’s very tempting just to go to bed and for many people just to give up, but most of them never do. If they can do that, then I can get dirty for one day.

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Peter also suggested those interested in training in center city to get in touch with Mike McLaughlin at Radius Fitness at their website here. We may put ourselves through some of his training and report back in the coming weeks.

There are also a bunch of other training options rounded up at the MS Society site here both in the suburbs and in the city. You can see them all here.

Previously: