Unstoppable: How Country Music Star Clay Walker Has Redefined Success While Navigating Society With…

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Unstoppable: How Country Music Star Clay Walker Has Redefined Success While Navigating Society With Multiple Sclerosis (MS)

You’re only as strong as your support system, so it’s not only important to surround yourself with a comprehensive care team but also friends and family who understand your condition and will support you

As a part of our “Unstoppable” series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Clay Walker.

Clay Walker is a multi-PLATINUM selling country artist who has garnered 11 №1 songs, 31 charted singles, four RIAA PLATINUM albums, two Certified GOLD albums and more, and he has established himself as a country music staple with songs like “If I Could Make A Living,” “This Woman And This Man,” “Live Until I Die” and “She Won’t Be Lonely Long.” His most recent album ’Texas To Tennessee,’ which was produced by Michael Knox (Jason Aldean) and Jaron Boyer (Dierks Bentley’s “Somewhere On A Beach”), reflects on his storied career. Walker recorded the album in both his home state of Texas and adopted home of Nashville, delivering 10 tracks that channel his most prolific hit-making music of the 90s, while embracing the modern sounds of today’s country music scene. Listen to ’Texas to Tennessee,’ here.

Thank you so much for doing this with us Clay! It is really an honor. Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

I grew up on a family farm/ranch in Beaumont, TX. We had gardens and animals, and on most weekends, we had the BBQ pits fired up and lots of guitar music and singing. My dad was a welder, and my mom worked as a waitress at the local Mexican food restaurant. They divorced when I was three years old, and I spent time between them in the neighboring town of Vidor, TX, where I played football and graduated high school. My dad taught me guitar and singing, and I began performing in local talent contests in the Golden Triangle (Beaumont, Port Arthur, and Orange). I loved writing songs and singing them, and soon I was discovered in a Beaumont nightclub by the renowned producer James Stroud. After that, I went to Nashville and recorded my first album in 1993. It scored three number-one hits and reached a double-platinum status, selling over 2 million copies.

I am married with five children to the most beautiful caregiver, Jessica. We raise our kids between Texas and Tennessee. We provide a ranch life for our family with cattle, horses, border collie dogs, and an abundance of love and affection.

Do you feel comfortable sharing with us the story surrounding how you became disabled or became ill? What mental shift did you make to not let that “stop you”?

In the spring of 1996, I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS). My symptoms were a lazy right leg and numbness in my hands. My prognosis was grim. My wife called a neurosurgeon and made an appointment. Since the neurosurgeon was not a neurologist or an MS specialist, he saw the number of lesions on my brain and told me I would be in a wheelchair in 2–4 years and dead within 8. He also didn’t know that there were MS medications that I could take either, so I left the hospital confused and scared. I wept. Then I prayed. I discerned that I would not give up but instead do all I could to live fully.

Eventually, after two decades of remaining relatively stable, I experienced my first “surprise attack” MS relapse which completely threw me for a loop — I couldn’t feel anything below my neck and there were moments when I couldn’t walk. The symptoms of that relapse lasted nearly five months. After that, I met with a neurologist and started a new MS treatment that is a twice-yearly infusion called Ocrevus to help manage my disease progression and have been on it ever since.

A strong patient/doctor relationship is important because the knowledge you can gain from a really experienced MS specialist is invaluable. It took me a lot of years to actually realize that I could manage MS. When you’re initially diagnosed with MS, I don’t think people like the word “management.” They want to hear the word “cure.” There is no cure for MS yet, but there are safe and effective disease-modifying therapies (DMTs) available to help delay progression of the disease. I believe it’s imperative to surround yourself with people that have a lot of knowledge about the disease if you really want to have a successful journey with MS. I’ve got several relationships that have been helpful to me, obviously my neurologist is probably the most important.

Can you tell our readers about the accomplishments you have been able to make despite your disability or illness?

Despite being diagnosed with MS at any early age, I have lived a full and happy life, and by most medical accounts, I would be considered a miracle. I have had beautiful and healthy children, continued to perform, and have hits, and I have no intention of changing that any time soon.

What advice would you give to other people who have disabilities or limitations?

I encourage others living with disabilities and limitations to do everything in their power to push through mentally and then physically. You can do more than you think. I have followed this game plan for 26 years; found a conventional medication that works for me and one with which I can remain compliant. I used to have to take a shot every day; it was tough. Now I get an infusion every six months, which is much easier — especially given my busy lifestyle and being on tour. I can’t stress enough how important it is for other people living with MS to be their own health advocate until you find a medical team that best fits your needs. MS is a progressive disease from the start so it’s important to seek early and appropriate care and receive treatment as early as possible after diagnosis with a DMT to delay disability.

I also use physical therapy methods to keep in shape and balance better. My diet is good, and I like to have some red wine every day. I also don’t look at myself as damaged goods; I see opportunity. 🙂

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?

My English teacher at Vidor High taught me creative writing, which led to my skills as a songwriter.

One of my principals from South Park High School wrote me a note on the last day of school during my freshman year. It said, “first unto thine own self be true.” I have used that as a foundation ever since.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I have strived to help others living with MS when and wherever possible. I enjoy calling a newly diagnosed person most of all. They are usually devastated the same way I was when receiving the news. It fills me with joy to say to them, “you are gonna be alright.”

Can you share “5 things I wish people understood or knew about people with physical limitations” and why.

  • MS is not contagious
  • MS can seem like an “invisible disease” at times so be kind to others — my symptoms may not always be obvious or I “don’t look sick” but understand that there are days when I’m dealing with the impact of the condition beneath the surface
  • Physical limitations make you stronger mentally
  • You know your body better than anyone — if something doesn’t feel right, speak up. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and advocate for yourself. MS often strikes in the prime of life when you’re young and don’t think you’ll be diagnosed with a disease that will impact the rest of your life — I was 26 years old — so I can’t stress enough the importance of taking proactive steps to manage your disease and connecting with the MS community
  • You’re only as strong as your support system, so it’s not only important to surround yourself with a comprehensive care team but also friends and family who understand your condition and will support you

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?

“Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.”

– Mark Twain

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this 🙂

Warren Buffet. I once had a telephone conversation with him, and he told me he would change places with me because of all the joy I could bring to people. I was fascinated by his wisdom and insight. We’ve never met in person, but I would enjoy his honesty and wit.

Unstoppable: How Country Music Star Clay Walker Has Redefined Success While Navigating Society With… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.