Montel Williams confronts MS head on
Montel Williams is not your typical pot-smoking snowboarder.
Best known as an Emmy-winning talk show host, the former Marine and decorated naval intelligence officer was also a champion boxer, bodybuilder and power-lifter.
In 1999, Williams was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and it hit him hard. After a downward slide to rock bottom, Williams decided to get his life back.
Were you active in your younger years?
I was extremely active. I was a martial artist. I played every sport: track, football, basketball. I lettered in every sport in high school. Then in the military, I was a boxer. I won the brigade championship, beating my entire class in 1976 in the welterweight division.
I ended up wrecking my left knee and had two operations on it, and got big into power-lifting to strengthen my legs. My best squat was 585 and max bench press was 355. At my biggest, I was 220, but I weigh about 180 now.
Tell me about being diagnosed with MS.
My diagnosis came about because I was dead-lifting with a new technique. I felt like I’d tweaked something in my back, but later, my feet were on fire. There was severe pain that sent me to a doctor, and I was diagnosed. The doctor said I had to give up on strenuous exercise because it was going to exacerbate the condition — and that prognosis hurt me for seven years. I shouldn’t have listened. What I should have done was continue working out.
The doctor said I’d be in a wheelchair in four years, and I just wanted to quit. I almost took my own life; the depression lasted about seven months. But now I’m looking to live instead of looking to die.
I thought, “If so many people believe in me, why can’t I believe in myself?” Then I decided that I was going to turn this whole thing around, and I started doing a bunch of research on MS. I’m doing everything I can to determine what I need to do to impact my illness and get better and hopefully help other people. It’s been incredible in terms of boosting my mood and having a positive impact on my emotional state.
So what specifically did you do?
Despite what the doctor said, I should have continued working out with weights. I abruptly stopped doing that on his recommendations, and from 2000 to 2006 I wasn’t training that hard. It was much more callisthenic. I finally realized I needed to start pushing the muscles. From 2006, I’ve been learning more and more from physiologists at Canyon Ranch in Arizona to deal with the loss of muscle mass.
I’ve also been involved in a study called the Wisconsin Project by researchers at the University of Wisconsin. It’s a device that was made for traumatic brain injury that electrically stimulates the brain through the tongue to help the brain reorganize and create different pathways. It has changed my ability to exercise, and I’ve learned that exercise and diet can affect everything for physical and emotional well being. I don’t care if you’re in a wheelchair or bedridden.
I give equal credit to diet in making my life better. I have gone to a high raw vegetable diet: 75%-80% of the food I eat every day is raw fruits and vegetables.
I understand you’ve been an avid snowboarder. Are you still able to do that?
I’ve been snowboarding all over the world, and from 2001 onwards I was averaging about 100 days of snowboarding a year. But in 2006, I started losing strength in the left side of my body. My gait wasn’t good, and I had a lot of pain. I tried snowboarding again in 2007 and was having a lot of problems with balance. In 2009, I started to change my diet and exercise routines to put in even more anaerobic and plyometric exercise to stimulate my brain and make it work better. Then when I began with the Wisconsin Project in 2010, everything really started to change.
Last month, I went snowboarding with my friend in Utah and blew him away. I was so good I’m going heli-boarding in Alaska this June. With the midnight sun, I’m going to heli-board every day and go salmon fishing every night.
Tell me about your use of medical marijuana.
I’ve been involved in every state that has passed legislation allowing for this plant-based medicine. I have helped state after state to allow safe access for patients. I’ve been using it for the past 10 years and will continue to do so for reducing pain in my lower extremities and mitigating spasticity when I sleep.