Lina Nielsen has revealed she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis a month before her 18th birthday; the 400-metre hurdler says a flare-up from the illness left her unable to perform at her best at last month’s World Athletics Championships
Last Updated: 03/08/22 11:09am
British 400-metre hurdler Lina Nielsen says that she hopes to “inspire people” after revealing she competes despite suffering with multiple sclerosis.
In an exclusive interview with the Telegraph, Nielsen explained that she first suffered symptoms from the condition when she was 13, before being diagnosed a month ahead of her 18th birthday.
Having kept her diagnosis private until now, the 26-year-old was prompted to speak out after at last month’s World Athletics Championship in Oregon. The symptoms of a ‘flare-up’ struck on the eve of her heat and left her unable to deliver anything near her best level of performance.
“I never wanted to be known as the athlete who got MS,” said Nielsen – who also revealed that she suffered with depression following her diagnosis. “But it’s something that I hope will inspire people. Now is the right time. I want to tell my story.”
“I was in the best shape of my life. I felt 7ft tall when I ran. Hurdles felt like they were on the ground. The timing couldn’t have been any worse.
“The day before my race I woke up, put my shirt on and as my fingers stroked my torso I noticed the left side was numb.
“By the time of the race, the numbness had progressed to my left arm and most of my left leg, so 90 per cent of my left side was numb. I also started to feel right-sided weakness.
“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.”
After taking a course of anti-inflammatory corticosteroids, Nielsen’s symptoms have subsided and she is set to return to action on Thursday, representing England at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.
Laviai Nielsen: Lina is a warrior
Nielsen’s rise to international level has come alongside her identical twin sister Laviai, who won a bronze medal as part of Great Britain’s 4 x 400m relay team in Oregon, adding to the silver she won in the same competition in London in 2017.
According to Nielsen, an adverse reaction to the Covid-19 vaccine for Laviai led to an early diagnosis of MS for her twin, and that “they are 90 per cent sure” she has it, although she has not yet suffered any symptoms.
She revealed that she had initially withheld news of her diagnosis from her twin for two months over fears that she would also have it,
“Because she was an identical twin, there was a high chance she had it as well,” Nielsen said. “I remember thinking that was my fault. I had that guilt with me.”
Following the publication of the story in the Telegraph on Wednesday morning, Nielsen received messages of support on social media from several other athletes, including her twin.
Laviai Nielsen wrote on Instagram: “Whenever my twin sister race, I cry. A lot. Because while everyone sees just another 400m hurdles, I see a different athlete altogether.
“I see a warrior. I see someone have to fight battles no 20-something year old person should have to go through. I’ve seen someone continue to stand up, despite being knocked down again and again. And I’ve seen someone who sees life as the greatest gift through it all.
“@linaruns… my better half. You are my strength, my inspiration and my biggest source of pride. There is not one day when I don’t feel immensely proud of you.
“Sharing your MS story wasn’t easy, but you will inspire so many people with your bravery, strength and determination.”
Nielsen’s British team-mate Dina Asher-Smith also paid tribute, as did 2012 Olympic champion Jessica Ennis-Hill.
“I have so much admiration for this incredible woman,” Ennis-Hill wrote on social media.
“You continue to amaze me with all you have achieved on and off the track and the genuinely lovely person you are! Thank you for telling your story. We’ll all be cheering you on as always.”