By Daniel J. Vance
At first glance Zoe Koplowitz seems like any other New Yorker: she loves her city, talks faster than a Roger Clemens fastball, and enjoys tossing around that sharp New York wit.
But look deeper. Zoe, 55, has multiple sclerosis. She also is a National Multiple Sclerosis Society spokesperson, a professional motivational speaker, and she holds the world record for the longest time in the history of women's marathon running.
The longest time?
"I'm the only person with multiple sclerosis to complete seventeen marathons and finish last in them all," she said. "I used to travel with all my last place medals, but last time the airlines tried to confiscate them. They said I could use them as weapons."
So on November 2 she will "run" her ninth New York Marathon. It may take her 30 hours on crutches.
"Winning isn't always about being first," she said. "It's about doing everything you do with all you've got from the core of who you are. My personal mission [as a motivational speaker] is to help people reinvent the whole concept of winning."
The National Multiple Sclerosis Society says that MS is "thought to be" an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system.
What is known is that the outside of nerve cells of persons with MS lacks sufficient myelin, a protective fatty tissue. This lack of protection around the nerves leaves scar tissue, or sclerosis, which then disrupts electrical impulses to and from the brain. In 85 percent of cases symptoms are sporadic and can include fatigue, pain, cognitive function loss, and walking and visual difficulties.
MS disproportionately affects women ages 20 to 50, Caucasians, and persons living in colder climates. Some 400,000 Americans have it. Good news: it isn't fatal, contagious or inherited directly, and it usually doesn't lead to being severely disabled.
As for Zoe, while she has authored the award-winning book, "Winning Spirit: Life Lessons Learned in Last Place," her greatest achievement yet may have been surviving the World Trade Center disaster.
"I was working the graveyard shift two blocks away," she said. "If my replacement had been on time I would have been standing underneath the World Trade Center waiting for a bus as it fell. So now I'm on 'bonus' time. I'm gung-ho about traveling the country and sharing my message."