England batsman James Taylor this week announced his retirement from cricket at the age of 26 owing to a serious heart condition. One person who knows how it feels to have a successful sporting career ended suddenly by a medical condition is England footballer Ashleigh Mills.
Ashleigh Mills played football for Doncaster Rovers Belles and was a rising star for England, but last month, a day after she turned 20, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis( MS) and forced to retire from video games.
“It came out of the blue, ” she tells of the first symptoms. “It was match day last year and I woke up and couldn’t feel my right foot.
“I went to see the club’s physio and he told I seemed alright. I probably should have told him the feeling was spreading up my legs but I played for 60 minutes. By the end I didn’t have any feeling from my hips all the way down to my feet.”
The numbness was the first clue of MS. The non-hereditary neurological disease is the result of the protective layer surrounding nerve fibers – known as myelin – becoming injury. The immune system them erroneously attacks it, causing scarring or sclerosis.
Symptoms include sight loss, wearines, mobility issues and memory and cognitive problems. The pattern of MS varies between private individuals and changes over time making it difficult to predict the course of the disease.
For Mills it was an unexpected shock and an end to the professional football career she had been dreaming of since childhood.
She was signed to the Women’s Super League One side at persons under the age of 17 and received her call-up from the England U1 9 squad within weeks. Her debut for the national side came in 2014 at the age-group European Championships in Norway. England were knocked out of the working group stages but it left Mills with the drive and ambition to make it in the game.
During the first bout of the disease the numbness in her foot and heaviness in her legs persisted and after several days she visited her GP, heralding the start of a year-long road to diagnosis. In March 2016 – almost a year to the day after the symptoms emerged – she was told she had relapsing and remitting MS. In other words, the symptoms come and go, with the body repairing itself before another attack.
“Me and my mothers were shocked and upset when they first mentioned it could be MS, but by the time they said it actually was that, we’d accepted it. By then I knew all the symptoms so I was sort of expecting it, but I couldn’t actually believe I’d have to retire, because football is all I know.”
There are several stress of MS – 85% of people are initially diagnosed with relapsing and remitting MS while many go on to develop secondary progressive MS where the condition continues to deteriorate.
MS affects more than 100,000 people in the UK with a ratio of 3:1 females being diagnosed It attacks the nervous system. Symptoms include sight loss, ache and wearines MS is unpredictable – one day you can be fine, the next you may lose your sight The MS Society helpline: 0808 800 8000 Ashleigh Mills Image caption