In 2016 Jimmy Blais, originally from Kimberley, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS). Two years ago he moved into the Garden View Village independent and assisted living facility after his symptoms made living on his own too difficult.
The 41-year-old was not in a good place mentally and described hating his condition. But after meeting Golden Life community manager Claire Jacklin, who helped him get into a workout routine, Blais has been able to get a whole new outlook on his life and the disease.
MS is a potentially disabling auto-immune disease of the central nervous system that can impact memory, balance and mobility and it can affect people in different ways and at different ages.
Kimberley is Blais’ home town. He lived in Vancouver for a few years, having moved there to seek treatment for drug addiction.
He was a trained actor and made a few films in Vancouver, but he came back home to Kimberley in 2013 when his stepmom passed away, which he said “destroyed a lot of things.”
“My mother died when I was 10,” Blais said. “So losing my step mother, she was my mum longer than my mother was my mom.”
Then in 2016 he got sick.
“It affected me with hatred,” he said of the diagnosis, “and I really, really dislike that word and I really disliked how it affected me personally.”
He met Jacklin while living at Garden View, and she provided him the help to get his legs on the exercise bike and gave him some much-needed encouragement to start working out.
“What really is affecting me badly with this disease is my balance, I don’t really have pain,” Blais explained. “But really she helped me get my legs on the bike. Without that I wouldn’t be able to get on again. And thank the universe that she was here to get me started on that.”
He said that working out has not only helped him feel immensely better physically, but also helped him out with his mental state as well.
“[Working out] doesn’t allow me to really freak out,” he said. “Like I used to scream ‘I hate this’ and now it’s like I can’t because I rode that bike. So coming here and doing that is what’s really fixing the mental aspects of this disease.”
He started out slowly, doing about 10 revolutions of the pedals on the exercise bike. As he regained command of his body, he increased his reps more and more and today can do 500 revolutions.
He works out early in the morning every day and is now working in strength training like push-ups and weight lifting. He’s also walking the hallways of Garden View, pushing his heavy power chair, and doing stairs.
“I’ve never felt better about myself in a very long time,” he said. “I need to remember that I’m doing something to get out of my murk. Can’t sit back there, I’m here now. I want to stay here and keep doing what I’m doing, because I know it’s helping me and my body is changing. I’ve never seen definition in my chest and my arms before. I used to be 400 pounds at my heaviest.”
Were it not for meeting Jacklin and taking the initiative to start working out, Blais believes he would still be “stuck in that hatred,” he felt when initially diagnosed. Now he sees that the disease does not define him, it’s just a part of him.
“Working out has really taught me how to love the disease and know that it’s an experience,” he said. “And that’s what I’m doing I’m having an experience with a really awful thing but I know it now I know this and I’m thankful for it.”
“Although it sucks,” he added with a laugh.
Moving forward, Blais intends to keep working out every day and pushing himself more and more. He hopes to share his experience and inspire others who are battling MS and encourage them to not stop moving their body.
“I know that we lose a lot of our abilities and talents and stuff, but if we work towards a better goal, it’ll come. Don’t get stuck in the spiral that can bring you really down. Work out. Move your body, it helps.”
He also is currently working on a book. He said that this new outlook he’s achieved has helped him see himself as more than what he thought he was before, whether that was an actor, singer or a writer. He thought he’d lost all of that because of this disease, but now knows that it’s all still there.
“When I first found out about it I thought my life was over, I was like this is it I’m done,” he said. “And my step mum just died so I was like, ‘why am I here?’ But now I know, I’m here for this experience and to teach people that life can be what you make it.”