UNC alumna Nancy Wendirad lives life on her terms
Nancy Wendirad had to learn how to live with multiple sclerosis. That meant living with burning facial pain and adjusting to blurry vision in her right eye. Most of all, it meant she had to learn how to bargain with a terrible disease.
Wendirad was diagnosed with MS in 1992. She went to a doctor with a dayslong, excruciating headache that accompanied blurry vision and severe pain in her right eye. The doctor sent her to an ophthalmologist, who sent her to a neurologist, who told her she had MS but said he couldn’t do anything for her.
That was when she started to bargain with her illness, because at the time, Wendirad had a 6-year-old daughter, Abebech. Her bargain? If she could raise her daughter without the debilitating symptoms of MS, she would let the disease do whatever it wanted later on.
She’d already learned the art of compromise from growing up in northern Mexico. At her high school there, she ran the 100-meter dash, but she also ran the 1,000-meter because no one else on her team wanted to do it. Another compromise: she moved to Greeley so she could be with her mother, but doing so meant she had to learn English.
No problem. She took a two-year, intensive program at Aims Community College where she earned her Associate of Arts degree and met her husband, Gideon.
Fluent now in English, Wendirad then enrolled at UNC in 2002, but she didn’t become a Bear by half measures. A double major in Communication and Spanish with an emphasis in teaching, and an English as a Second Language endorsement, Wendirad was also a Stryker Institute for Leadership Development Scholar and Cumbres participant for prospective ESL teachers.
She graduated in 2005 and now works in the Weld RE-8 and Weld RE-3J school districts, counseling and advocating for migrant students. She’s also UNC’s Alumni Association Advisory Board president, and volunteers her time to give back to the programs that supported her.
And about that diagnosis bargain? MS did leave her alone, more or less, for about seven years, when she developed that burning facial pain. Doctors told her the pain was usually unbearable in most patients. She almost considered herself blessed.
Then she began to think about yet another bargain.
She’d wanted to run a marathon for many years. She called it a bucket list thing and began training in 2014 with long runs of up to 20 miles. In May of this year, she made it to the starting line, running down the Poudre Canyon in Fort Collins to finish the Colorado Marathon.
Near the end of the race, she was planning to walk the last half-mile. Then she heard Abebech’s voice. Her daughter, now 31, lives in Lakewood but planned to run the last part of the race with her mom. Wendirad also saw her husband, camera in hand, shouting, “You got this, Nancy,” and her former professor, Efrain Garza, and his wife, Nora, cheering her on. Wendirad let the burst of energy that came from their support carry her in a sprint to the finish line.
That’s how the whole bargain started out, after all — with a goal, her family and determination. From learning English and getting her degree to training for a marathon and keeping a monster at bay, she’s pushed through, in part because she’s living — in the biggest sense of the word — with MS.