Exclusive Lina Nielsen: ‘I have multiple sclerosis, but I still want to rule on the track’

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Before Lina Nielsen sits down to reveal a secret she’s kept her entire athletic career, she has one important rule: This isn’t a bleak story.

Yes, plenty of tears have been shed along the way – and she’ll shed a few more in the course of our conversation as she recounts the disaster that struck at the World Championships last month – but she’s determined not to be gloomy. What happened defines and will not define her; she doesn’t want people’s grief.

Nielsen has multiple sclerosis. It’s been present for exactly half of her life and her entire running career, since she first started having symptoms at age 13.

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More often than not, it slumbers, save for the kind of occasional flare-ups that hit her the morning before the biggest race of her life last month, sabotaging her dreams of a world medal.

But even when he doesn’t rear his head, he’s always there; the last thing on her mind at night and the first thing in the morning as she quickly goes through her daily checkups. Is her vision clear? Do her fingers react the way she wants? Is any part of her body numb?

Three yeses mean she can continue her quest to become one of the world’s top 400m hurdlers. No means it has struck again and is taking control while she sleeps.

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Despite meeting after one of the most difficult times of her life, Nielsen, 26, remains relentlessly cheerful. For so long she didn’t know if this moment would ever come, unsure if she would reveal her most personal secret that hardly anyone outside her inner circle knows about.

Ahead of her Commonwealth Games debut, and a fortnight after a very public disappointment at the World Championships, she has decided to open up.

“I never wanted to be known as the athlete who got MS,” she said. “But it’s something that I hope will inspire people. Now is the right time. I want to tell my story.”

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She laughs – for the first, but certainly not the last time during our conversation – and warns that this may take a while. There is much that she has held in her.

Nielsen, one of British athletics’ most famous twins alongside her identical sister Laviai, was 13 when the illness first struck in the form of a sudden weakness in her left arm.

It was initially misdiagnosed as a stroke — a common mistake among young people with MS — and her youthful ignorance soon caused her to completely forget about it until two more serious flare-ups when she was 17.

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