LA Kowal was diagnosed with ALS in 1995 and told she had three years to live. More than 20 years later, she met our photographer on a hiking trail to share her story; what an inspirational story it is.
Prior to the diagnosis, Kowal had always been healthy. In the months before she received the shocking news, Kowal began to slur her words. It was ever so slight, and Kowal says her brother was the only person who brought it up. He called and asked if she was “drunk or on drugs”. That’s when she went to the doctor and received the diagnosis that changed her life forever.
Her two sons were 8 and 10 years old at the time and naturally Kowal was worried about them. She stayed in her room for a week quiet and prayerful Then, Kowal says, she accepted the diagnosis and knew she had to move on. The emphasis here is on the word movement
She says doctors told to “stay home and rest” and to stop exercising. But this New Jersey native who moved to Arizona to raise her family, refused to believe that her future would unfold in her bedroom. She wanted to be outside moving until her body no longer allowed her to do so.
“When LA contacted me to train her,” says Kevin Shepard, a personal trainer based in Scottsdale, Arizona, “I asked what she wanted me to do.” Kowal told him what she wanted was freedom.
Shepard devised a plan that meant getting out of the gym and pushing her boundaries — one slow step at a time.
The first time the two met at the hiking trail, Kowal fell and began to crawl on all fours toward a pole. Shepard told her to stop and crawl toward her walker. “That is going to be your life,” he said. “Learning to use this walker.”
Kowal says she got herself up — and in that moment she felt powerful (that is the painful, psychological toll that a disease like ALS takes on a person. It feels like you slowly lose power and control over your own body).
Working with LA Kowal has changed Shepard’s outlook on life. “When you meet people who are struggling, it puts it into perspective,” he says. “You think of what they are going through and realize what you may be going through is not that bad. When you don’t have your health, you don’t have your mobility, thats what really matters. The freedom to pick up and go where you want to go, when you want to go.”
Kowal has managed to find peace and healing in this journey. “I’m so blessed with family and friends who love me and care about me. My faith has gotten stronger. There is more understanding and more heart,” she says. Kowal pauses and adds, “Less of me and more of God”.