How Dennis Conway, An Avid Athlete and Top Salesman Dealt With His Multiple Sclerosis Diagnosis And Depression

Editor’s Note: I first met Dennis Conway in 1969 when he was in high school. He played defensive tackle for West Rome High School in Rome,Georgia, under Coach Nick Hyder. Conway had a football scholarship to the University of West Alabama in Livingston, Alabama, where he played for Coach Mickey Andrews, who recently retired as Coach Bobby Bowden’s assistant coach at Florida State. In high school, Conway was also on the wrestling team and pole vaulted on the track team–a three sport athlete. Part 2 of a 4-part series.

When I played football at Rome High School, Coach Hyder was much like my dad– an encourager, a motivator and the kind of coach everyone desired. But when I went to the Universityof West Alabama, Coach Andrews was just the opposite. He’d grab you by the helmet, scream and yell at you and try to motivate you in an all together different way. Coach Andrews only stayed at the University of West Alabama during my freshman year.

Conway was encouraged and motivated by his coach at Rome High School.

Conway was encouraged and motivated by his coach at Rome High School.

Coach Jim King came after Coach Andrews. I played one year for him before I was injured playing football and had to leave the team. However, I loved the sport so much that I became an announcer at the games and was a cheerleader. In fact, I had a wide variety of jobs while I was in college –at a paper mill, raising catfish at a catfish farm and picking watermelons and loading them on trucks. Despite my busy schedule, I graduated with a degree in Business Administration and a minor in Economics.

About 25 years ago, I was working as a manufacturer’s representative for Shimano Fishing Tackle Company, Browning Firearms and Connecticut Valley Arms. I attended an industry show in Houston, Texas, and by the time I got home from the show, my legs were numb. I went to the doctor, and he told me that I probably had some type of iodine poisoning due to the shellfish I’d eaten at the trade show. He gave me some vitamins and said I should feel normal in a few days.

 However, five weeks later, I became completely blind in my right eye. I went to an ophthalmologist, who then sent me to Emory University. The doctor at the university reviewed my charts and asked,”Have you had any other problems?” I said, “Yes, about a month ago, my legs went numb.” The doctor then told me, “You have multiple sclerosis. The good news is multiple sclerosis won’t kill you, but the bad news is there’s no cure for it. Here is a pamphlet about it. Now you go out and have a good life.”

After my diagnosis, I finally decided to quit my job as a manufacturer’s representative and bought Camp Sporting Goods in Dallas, Georgia, a 5,000 square-foot store. If you couldn’t kill it, shoot it or eat it, then we didn’t sell it at Camp’s. We had no softball equipment, ping pong paddles or baseball bats. I ran 6.2 miles in the Peachtree Road Racein 1998, although I drug my right leg a little bit. I also played softball. Things were going pretty well.

Conway ran the Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta even after he was diagnosed with MS.

Conway ran the Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta even after he was diagnosed with MS.

However, I read that 62% of the people who get multiple sclerosis in their twenties and thirties usually divorce during that time. In 1999, my wife took my kids and left. Unfortunately, I was a part of that percentage. I had nowhere to go, so I slept on the floor at Camp Sporting Goods. I had to close the store in January of 2000.

Finally, I went to the University of Alabama Hospital in Birmingham, Alabama, and met Dr. Whitaker, a MS specialist. He referred me to Dr. William Stuart at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, who deals with multiple sclerosis a lot. He actually founded the Multiple Sclerosis Center of Atlanta. The chemotherapy I had for four months caused my weight to plummet from a healthy 238 pounds and size 38 in jeans, to a size 32. At that time, I could walk with crutches.

Unfortunately, one thing that really triggers bad reactions with people who have multiple sclerosis is stress. After closing my business and getting a divorce, I found out my mother had cancer. All of this happening at one time put me in a wheelchair. I wasn’t working– I was on disability. I was in a very bad place mentally, physically and emotionally.

I’m convinced I wouldn’t have made it had it not been for the support of my parents who had helped me to find my faith and taught me to have a strong will. I met three other multiple sclerosis patients when I was at the Shepherd Center who were in the same shape as me. Now, ten years later, all three of those patients have passed away from either natural causes or suicide. They lost their health, their families and their jobs. For three years, I did nothing. I still could drive at that time, so I’d get up in the mornings, drink coffee with the boys and then come home and watch Oprah and Sally Jessy Raphael on TV. Then I’d go to sleep and start again the next day. I felt extremely low and wasn’t sure if I’d survive or not.

Next: Dennis Conway Alleviates His Depression By Teaching And Helping Others

About the Author:For the last 12 years, John E. Phillips of Vestavia, Alabama, has been a professional blogger for major companies, corporations and tourism associations throughout the nation. During his 24 years as Outdoor Editor for “The Birmingham Post-Herald” newspaper, he published more than 7,000 newspaper columns and sold more than 100,000 of his photos to newspapers, magazines and internet sites. He also hosted a radio show that was syndicated at 27 radio stations; created, wrote and sold a syndicated newspaper column that ran in 38 newspapers for more than a decade; and wrote and sold more than 30 books. Learn more at http://www.nighthawkpublications.com

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3 Responses to How Dennis Conway, An Avid Athlete and Top Salesman Dealt With His Multiple Sclerosis Diagnosis And Depression

  1. Pingback: Multiple Sclerosis Couldn’t Stop Dennis Conway’s Passion For Coaching Lacrosse « UroMed Catheter Health Blog

  2. wartica says:

    I know exactly what Dennis was going through. I had severe eczema, rosacea, pus boils, scabs, and alopecia all over my body. That jump started the long bouts of depression, anger and anxiety. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I came across internal martial arts, organic vegetarianism and my life changed for the better. I had gotten to my own breaking point that I developed the never say die mentality, as did Dennis.Great article and truly inspirational :))

  3. Tom Rolison says:

    An inspirational story ! Just I thought I had problems a story like this is good medicine. Thank you and good luck !

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