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Kara Goucher diagnosed with neurological disorder

The World Championship silver medallist, who has been diagnosed with focal dystonia, says she must "drastically cut back" on her running or she could lose the ability to walk

The running community was shocked on Tuesday when Kara Goucherone of America’s most accomplished distance runners, announced that she will no longer be able to participate in the sport she loves. The two-time Olympian explained in an Instagram post that she had been diagnosed with repetitive exercise dystonia and that if she did not drastically cut back on her running, she’d not only risk losing her ability to run, but even to walk.

“This past week I was a patient in the neurology department at the Mayo Clinic,” Goucher said in her post. “The doctor confirmed repetitive exercise dystonia, and tried to tell me, as gently as possible, that the more I run the worse my symptoms will get. I have to drastically cut back or not only will I lose the ability to run at all, I will struggle to walk as well.”

A dystonia is a disorder characterized by involuntary muscle contractions, which can affect only one muscle, groups of muscles or muscles throughout the body. Although they are very rare, they can result from overuse or repetitive stress and tend to affect musicians and sometimes athletes. Initially, symptoms (like a foot cramp or a tendency for one foot to turn or drag, a worsening in handwriting after writing several lines or difficulty speaking) may be very mild and only occur after prolonged exertion. Over time, they can get worse or more widespread, or not they may not progress at all.

Unfortunately, medical professionals don’t know exactly what causes dystonia and there is currently no cure, but there are some treatments available to help lessen some of the symptoms. Physiotherapy can also help affected individuals deal with or lessen their symptoms. Goucher said in her post that she had started on some medication that was helping with her symptoms.

Goucher is one of the most accomplished American distance runners in history. She has competed in two Olympic Games, won the bronze medal in the 10,000m at the 2007 World Championships (which was later upgraded to silver), held the American half-marathon record and has been on the podium at the New York, Chicago and Boston Marathons. She was also one of the main whistleblowers whose testimony contributed to Alberto Salazar’s ban for doping violations and resulted in the shutting down of the Nike Oregon Project, which she had been part of. Goucher’s future in running is uncertain, but there’s no doubt her past in the sport was spectacular.

“I am thankful that it isn’t MS or ALS or some of the other things we had to rule out,” she said. “But losing running in the way I love it, is something I’m struggling to accept. People have said I’m addicted to running and they are right. I loved running before I knew I was good at it. It made me feel alive, to push, to feel my lungs expand. It has been one of the most glorious aspects of my life. From the silent meditation on a solo run to representing my country at the Olympic Games. I’m not sure where running ends and I begin, we are so entertained as one. I’m unsure what the future holds, but I’m trying to embrace it.”

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