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Learn from the Pros

Marathon with Multiple Sclerosis: Further, Higher, Longer!

  • Thomas Becker
  • October 17, 2019

The Swiss Jasmin Nunige has been suffering from multiple sclerosis for eight years, which does not prevent her from participating highly successfully in marathons and ultra trails. At OutDoor by ISPO, the 45-year-old reports on her impressive handling of the incurable disease.


She's in her running outfit: shorts, running shirt, sneakers. As if she wanted to start running again right after her lecture, out of hall B5, out of OutDoor by ISPO, out of town, just somewhere. Where to and for how long? Well, if Jasmin Nunige only knew that...

The Swiss, who was a cross-country skier at the Olympics and World Championships in the mid-90s, is now a very successful marathon, trail and ultra trail runner, has won the legendary Swiss Alpine K78 seven times, took sixth place in the 100 kilometre race in Hong Kong this year, won the Grand Défi des Vosges over 43 kilometres once again - and has been suffering from multiple sclerosis (MS) for eight years. And yet the 45-year-old says, "I'm still a lucky girl." I beg your pardon?

That was the first time I got really scared because I felt something was wrong.
Jasmin Nunige

MS is incurable. A nightmare, especially for people whose purpose in life has always been movement, running. Just like for Jasmine Nunige. After her cross-country skiing career, the woman from Davos trained as a medical masseuse, went self employed, married Guy Nunige, the former French champion over 1500 meters, gave birth to two children - Björn (2000) and Fiona (2004) - and started running again, preferably uphill and for a rather long time.

She won the Graubünden Marathon twice and a Skyrace in Japan - but in 2011, during a week of running in Portugal, she was shocked: "From one hour to the next I had sensory failure in my feet. It seemed to me that the shoes were too tight," she remembers. She doesn't think about it, she just loosens up her running shoes. But the disease doesn't let up: the next morning she has a tingling sensation up to the thighs, shortly after up to the navel. "It was the first time I got really scared because I felt something was wrong."

Jasmin Nunige started in two disciplines at the Olympic Games in Lillehammer in 1994 - at the time still under her maiden name Jasmin Baumann.
Jasmin Nunige started in two disciplines at the Olympic Games in Lillehammer in 1994 - at the time still under her maiden name Jasmin Baumann.
Image credit: @riffraff002, adidas terrex

The diagnosis comes quickly, and it's a tough one: MS, like her mother before her. Jasmin Nunige says: "It was both a shock and a relief because the disease had a name and I knew that MS is not a death sentence, that many MS patients can lead a largely normal life".

But she does not yet know that MS patients would also be able to run marathons and mountain races in personal bests. Rather, there is fear, uncertainty and a great helplessness. She entrusts herself to a therapist and recognizes: "There is no way back. I've arrived at a crossroads, can't go back, can't stop, but have to go on to the next crossroads - and then take another look."

Even after her MS diagnosis in 2011, the Swiss continued to collect titles diligently.
Image credit: @riffraff002, adidas terrex

Instead of running, Jasmine Nunige now goes cycling, changes her diet, avoids dairy products, sugar and wheat. In consultation with her doctor, she refrains from taking medication because she wants to continue to feel her body. "Of course, I was wondering if that wasn't negligent. I have a family and I don't want to risk my illness progressing. It is important that each patient can decide for themselves what is right for them. I also know that I have to look at the progression of my disease again and again. Maybe one day the moment will come when I have a yes to a treatment, especially since there are better and more effective drugs available and one has longer and longer experiences with these medications."

She gets to know the term resilience - and internalises it, visibly strengthening her psychological resilience in order to overcome her crisis and emerge stronger from it. With the family she makes a tree of life and asks every day: "What are we doing for ourselves today?" Neurolinguistic programming (NLP) also helps her. She says to herself, "Today is my day!" Or, "You can do it!" Keyword visualization: "How would I like to be again?" She doesn't even think about the typical picture of MS in a wheelchair, because she knows that she has more time than people who have been thrown into the wheelchair with one blow, like the Swiss ski racer Silvano Beltrametti, who was paraplegic after a fall.

Even after physical setbacks, Jasmin Nunige fights back to peak performance again and again.
Even after physical setbacks, Jasmin Nunige fights back to peak performance again and again.
Image credit: @riffraff002, adidas terrex
I was beginning to think MS had forgotten me. And suddenly it knocked on the door again, completely unannounced and with all its force.
Jasmine Nunige

And lo and behold: It's successful - and how! Her optimistic thinking brings back success. Already in the first year after the first episode she runs marathons and mountain runs again, wins the 78 kilometer long Ultratrail called Swiss Alpine K78 several times, but the illness does not keep calm for too long. Before the European Championships at home in Zurich in 2014, she notices: "I'm not fit and always just tired. This tiredness was completely different than usual when you don't like it anymore for an understandable reason. I had strange muscle pains, like I was always close to getting a cramp."

A magnetic resonance examination provides certainty: new centers of inflammation in the brain and spinal cord. Now, of all times, when she could perform better than ever before. "I was beginning to think MS had forgotten me. And suddenly it knocked on the door again, completely unannounced and with all its force." Run into the wall again. Accepting that the disease is back is not easy for her. This time it will take a long time before she regenerates physically.

Jasmin Nunige told her story at OutDoor by ISPO in Munich.
Jasmin Nunige told her story at OutDoor by ISPO in Munich.
Image credit: @riffraff002, adidas terrex

And then there's the soul, the head, in which terribly desperate movies are now playing. "Will I ever be able to even walk again?" Part of her processing is: instead of being an athlete, they travel to the European Championships in Zurich as spectators. "There were tears too, but I noticed the fire was still burning."

In the winter she tries cross-country skiing, just like before. Only in the spring again jogging, first only 20 minutes, then a run with the family and the liberation: "My legs are back again! The ease of running comes back. And Jasmin Nunige, the Adidas athlete, is suddenly faster than ever before, becomes mountain running world champion with the team and now chooses ever longer, more extreme routes. Some people take a critical view, say to her, "You're just running away from your illness." Jasmin Nunige says, "I think it's helping me."

I don't have to run anymore today, I can do it. To start at the Swissalpine Marathon: I used to take it for granted. Today it's a gift.
Jasmine Nunige

But she also has to accept: "I know that I am only as strong as my weakest part." She also knows it makes no sense to struggle with the disease. You can't defeat MS, so there is no pint in fighting it. Better to accept the disease and make the most of life, use the energy for good things and positive thoughts.

"MS has become a permanent companion for me, a life task. A disease that puts obstacles in my way, but also shows many positive things. I don't have to run anymore today, I can do it. To start at the Swissalpine Marathon: I used to take it for granted. Today it's a gift. I am at the beginning of a new era."

Says Jasmine Nunige, the lucky girl.