British 400m hurdler Lina Nielsen has revealed she suffers from multiple sclerosis and hopes to inspire others by speaking about the condition.
The 26-year-old decided to speak about her diagnosis after a relapse left her unable to compete to her usual standard at last month’s World Championships.
Nielsen told the Telegraph she first had symptoms aged 13 and was diagnosed with relapsing remitting MS aged 17.
“I never wanted to be known as the athlete who got MS,” said Nielsen.
“But it’s something that I hope will inspire people. Now is the right time. I want to tell my story.”
Multiple sclerosis, or MS, is a lifelong condition that affects the brain and nerves. It cannot be cured, although treatments are available.
Nielsen, who will compete at the Commonwealth Games on Thursday, says she burst into tears when being diagnosed by a doctor and suffered from panic attacks.
“I felt like I’d been given a life sentence,” she added. “I cried for the rest of the day. I’ve never cried so hard in my life.”
Nielsen’s identical twin sister Laviai is also a GB sprinter and, after having an adverse reaction to the Covid-19 vaccine, was tested despite not having any symptoms of MS.
Nielsen says they are “90% sure” her sister has it.
The day before her World Championships debut in Oregon in July, Nielsen began to notice symptoms again – by the time of the race, her left arm and leg felt numb, while she also started to feel weakness on her right side.
“I was in the best shape of my life,” said Nielsen. “The timing couldn’t have been any worse. It was the most important race of my life. I couldn’t not run, so I tried to put it to the back of my mind.”
Nielsen finished the race, coming home in last place, but says she was “proud” to have competed, albeit missing out on Great Britain’s 4x400m bronze medal that followed.
“No race will ever be as scary as that World Champs race. I was so scared on that start line thinking I might fall over,” she said.
“Now when I think about lining up, it’s not scary. It has built me up to be a warrior.”