An FBI investigator, security adviser, triathlon competitor. These roles represent the ambition of Bobbie Echard, an enthusiastic advocate who strives to spread awareness of multiple sclerosis.
An ambassador for the MS Society, she turned “the biggest crisis” in her life into a source and inspiration for strength. Bobbie discovered a passion for fitness after being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, a chronic disease that affects the brain and spinal cord. At the end of 2012, she fell down three steps in her garage, not connecting subsequent symptoms until much later. She was diagnosed in February of the following year.
As a former FBI agent active in the work force, Bobbie had to make some adjustments in her lifestyle after her diagnosis. But, Bobbie says, “By embracing my lack of skills, I don’t live in my failures. I live without regret.”
She discussed her journey from diagnosis to a new lifestyle.
Do you mind describing a bit about your role in your previous job(s) and what it was like adjusting to a different lifestyle?
As an FBI agent, I was assigned to both criminal (Violent Crimes and Fugitive Taskforce; Colombian Drug Trafficking; Fraud) and Intelligence (Foreign Counterintelligence and Counterterrorism squads). Each assignment required both physical fitness and intellectual acuity. The days were long and free time was limited. I spent much of my time utilizing my interview skills to recruit sources and to secure confessions. I worked with a team of talented individuals including Agents and Analysts and each provided their unique skills to the investigations. I was also involved in Crisis Management for Major Cases including two FBI top Ten Most Wanted Fugitive investigations, kidnappings and after the September 11 terrorist attacks.
After retirement from the Bureau after 23 years, I went to work in the oil and gas industry as a Security Advisor and Director of Investigations. While working the Macondo Oil Spill, I started to experience extreme fatigue and the inability to make decisions with confidence.”
Bobbie was 55 years old when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. As an active triathlon participant, mother, and ambitious professional, she dismissed the symptoms as stress and exhaustion at first. It wasn’t long, however, before doctors gave her the news.
“The MS diagnosis shattered me. I went from a very fit and independent individual to one who needed assistance with everything including walking, basic hygiene, driving, cleaning and making medical and financial decisions for my sons, Matthew and Mitchell, and me. I was accustomed to spending many hours a day with my team and making a difference in both domestic and international matters. And then, after my fall, I felt isolated and alone. My FBI family and children were always available to help; however, because I had been fiercely independent, I, initially, didn’t want their help. I soon learned that I could not come back from my diagnosis without help.”
Who is your support system? How have they impacted you and how have you impacted them?
My support system includes my immediate and extended family; Baylor College of Medicine’s Maxine Mesinger MS Clinic, the national and local MS Societies, Meat Fight (a Dallas nonprofit that donates bikes/trikes to individuals with MS who are committed to fitness); my FBI family who will take care of me for life, and my friends both within and outside of the MS community.
After my diagnosis, I did not want to be defined by my MS. I had a tendency to try and hide my disease which led to isolation. I’ve finally had the courage to tell my story and as a result, I’ve met kind and interesting individuals who know I have MS but who see me as much more than my disease.”
Bobbie came to the MS Society after spending time training her body with pilates, developing a passion for fitness.
“Now I’m in good shape even for someone who doesn’t have MS. Once I joined Pilates, after every class, I got better and better and better.”
She also built an interest in cycling, eventually competing in the MS 150, a two day long bike ride raising awareness and research for the disease.
She started training in February 2019 for the upcoming race in May.
“At first, I couldn’t even ride 10 miles,” Bobbie said. “I went for 6 miles, and I was dying. I came home and laid down, and I don’t think I got back up for 24 hours.”
But when the day came, Bobbie made it across, with all of the riders with MS waiting to finish together.
“It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life — but I was able to make it across the finish line.”
Bobbie now encourages everyone to move and be active, whether or not they have MS, and it’s not hard to see why. She is a prime example of the numerous benefits of exercise.
“Previously,” Bobbie explained, “people with MS were told not to exercise in order to conserve energy because extreme fatigue is one of the most common symptoms of MS. Today, we are encouraged to participate in fitness and I find increased fitness means increased energy within reason.”
What are some challenges or restrictions you’ve faced during this time (during the pandemic) and how have you been addressing them?
“Because cycling is an outdoor sport and safer than many other activities, I take daily rides on my tricycle. I have improved my distance from 12–16 miles to 20–30 miles per ride. Therefore, from a fitness standpoint, I have actually benefitted during these difficult times. Because I have MS and take disease modifying drugs, I have to take extra precautions to limit my exposure. As a result, I sometimes feel isolated. I have been unable to see my son, Mitch, since March because he works outside his home. However, I have connected with, and formed bonds with, other cyclists. It’s much easier to practice social distancing outside on the hike and bike trails.”
Bobbie’s resolve and kindness shone through in our communication. She thinks of others, contributes actively to her community, and has formed a unique support system as well as strengthening herself mentally and physically.
Bobbie says that after she learned how to take care of herself to feel her best and let go of sources of stress in her life, she no longer worried about her future and instead, focused on living her life to the fullest.
“You can’t tell someone else how to get through an illness,” says Bobbie. “But what you can do is lead by example.”
Referenced from: https://www.houstonchronicle.com/lifestyle/renew-houston/fitness/article/After-a-difficult-diagnosis-Heights-woman-pushes-15343967.php#photo-19558948