Katie Kline isn’t running for her life, even though it might look like that. The Liberal native, former LHS and WMS coach, respiratory therapist, and alumna of the SCCC Respiratory Therapy program is running for the lives of others. She calls them “MS Warriors,” people who live with the chronic disease and hope for a cure — people like her mother, who was diagnosed with Secondary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis (SPMS) when she was 33 years old.
“I was a year old at the time, so my entire life until she passed away kind of revolved around that. I don’t remember a time of my childhood that she was able to walk without the aid of a cane or walker,” Kline said.
On her bio page for “MS Run the US,” Kline writes that her mother eventually became confined to the use of a wheelchair, and in the last few years of her life, bedridden: “Although she faced many battles on a daily basis, she always had a smile on her face and was the rock of our family. I have never met someone so full of faith, strength, determination, and grace. To be even half the woman she was is what I strive for on a daily basis. She was my biggest fan. She is my hero. She was a true MS Warrior.”
Grueling as Kline’s part will be in the “MS Run the US” relay, she says her stint on Segment 9, 166 miles from Wray, Colo., to Holdredge, Neb., is simply her way of doing her part.
“I cannot think of a better way to honor the memory of my mom than to combine my passion for running with raising funds for research towards a cure for so many still being affected by this disease,” she said. “MS can be a debilitating disease. It was a struggle to watch her battle, but at the same time, it also really showed what her true character was, the kind of person she was — you know, strong. So strong. Resilient.”
Kline will definitely call upon her mother’s toughness as she tackles six consecutive days of 28-mile runs across eastern Colorado and western Nebraska, June 6 to 11. A support team and RV will accompany Kline to provide food, water, shelter, and a place to sleep after the day’s run.
“When I heard about MS Run the US, Inc. and their mission, I knew instantly I had to be a part of their team,” Kline said. The organization itself was started in honor of its founder’s mother, who also died of MS, “and it really is a good organization, run by good people.” The MS Run the US Relay is also “the ultimate test of strength, endurance, and mental toughness.”
For Kline, a lifetime athletes and runner, the challenge is welcome. A graduate of Liberal High School, Kline participated in basketball, track and cross-country, participating in the only LHS XC state championship team to date. She went away for college, only to return to Liberal when her mother’s health took a downward turn.
“This time of year, and that time in my life — 2009, nearly 10 years now — was a summer I’ll never forget,” Kline said. “I was enrolled in respiratory therapy at SCCC and we were preparing to start clinical rotations in Lubbock, Texas.” Kline, having married her high school sweetheart, Michael, was also seven months pregnant.
With the help of her husband, his mother, and a couple classmates, Kline had just moved into a short-term apartment in Lubbock, when she got a phone call from her father: her mom wasn’t doing well.
“It just progressed very quickly,” Kline said. “I borrowed my friend’s car, and started my way back to Liberal, met my husband part way there. I got home in time to say goodbye on June 1.”
While it’s actually “just kind of coincidence that I’m running this segment at this time,” Kline said, “I feel like it’s meant to be. This is the time of year when my mother is on my mind: Mother’s Day, her birthday, the day she passed. The biggest thing I miss is always being able to pick up the phone and call her. It didn’t matter what time of day or what was going on. I struggle with that even now, nine years later: I find myself grabbing the phone to call her. I could always count on her to be there.”
Despite the loss of her mother, Kline did continue to earn her credentials as a respiratory therapist that long-ago summer.
“My instructors, Ed Anderson and Ken Killion, gave me a week off from the clinics before finishing the month at Lubbock. I completed the rest of my rotations at Southwest Medical Center in Liberal because I couldn’t travel anymore,” she said.
The Klines lived and worked in Liberal for several more years, and Katie did some middle and high school coaching along with work at SWMC. In 2013, the family moved to Florida, where Katie continues her RT work, and her pursuit of health and wellness.
“Running and working out is my release from life, something that I really just legitimately enjoy and am passionate about,” she said. “I’ve seen the other side of things. I grew up with that, and work in a profession where you see it every day. It motivates me to keep myself together as long as I can. I want to be as strong as I can for as long as I can. I want to be around, do things with my kids, I want to be the one who can do it all.”
Kline regrets the fact that her two children, Brady and Ally, never got to meet their grandmother.
“She was always laughing. She was one of the funniest people I had ever met, had a smile that could light up the room. Always made light of everything, keep people cheered up and happy,” she said.
Kline’s children, though “are a good combination of all the best things about my mom,” she said. “My son is a really old soul, has that deep concern for other people, but also very funny, always trying to crack the jokes. My daughter is the mini version of her, stubborn, and fierce and feisty, and a personality bigger than life. I tell her all the time that she reminds me exactly of my mom.”
Kline’s children, husband, and mother-in-law have joined her for various races to prepare for the big MS run, helped design business cards, worked at bake sales, and added their smiling faces to the notion of raising money for research.
“Each of the runners participating in MS Run the US has committed to raising $10,000,” Kline said. By May 30, she’d reached the $9,300 mark, “mostly through small donations from people who care,” she said. “I’m incredibly grateful.”
All those contributors will be on Kline’s mind as she tackles the wide-open miles of the high plains.
“I’ll be thinking of them with gratitude, for all the generosity while I run,” she said. Of course, the main person on her mind will be her mom.
“It was tough, really hard to watch her struggle and fight through the challenges. Not a lot of other people have had to do that, or witness it,” she said. “A lot of who I am, who I learned to be, who I strive to be, came from those qualities.”
That’s what Kline is counting on to keep her going as the miles tick by.
To contribute to Katie’s leg of the nationwide relay, MS Run the US, visit https://www.firstgiving.com/fundraiser/katie-kline-1/msruntheus2018relay or visit her Facebook page, “Katie’s fundraiser for MS Run the US.”