Rep. Don Strong once strode the halls of the Legislature at a hurried pace, rushing to and from endless committee meetings and debates with the relish of a man who loved his work.
But Strong, a Republican from Springville, stopped walking some time ago.The pounding footsteps have been replaced by the soft hum of an electric cart, and Strong said that on any given day he's never quite sure whether the weakness and fatigue of multiple sclerosis will catch him before the last committee meeting wraps up.
But at least for the first two weeks of the Legislature's 1989 general session, Strong has beaten MS and reclaimed a life that the debilitating illness once threatened to steal.
"I wanted to do this, and I found out I could do it. That's a big thing to me. Wanting to do it is a lot different from knowing you can do it," Strong said of his return to the House after losing his seat to a challenger two years ago, about two months before being diagnosed as having MS.
"The thing about MS, when you finally get to coping with it, is that you say, `Why me?' The answer is, nobody knows," he said. "How do you say to yourself, `Don, you used to run five miles,' and Don can't run five feet now? Adapting to the mental part of it is harder than adjusting to the physical part."
Strong, 49, doesn't ask himself those questions much anymore. Instead, he's resumed to a remarkable degree the life he knew before.
When the Legislature is not in session, he practices law in Springville. On the road where he once jogged, he now drives his three-wheeled cart to work. For exercise, he swims and is a member of the 50-Mile Club at the Springville community pool.
He recently argued a lawsuit in court for the first time since losing his walking ability. He hummed about the courtroom, delivering his arguments from the cart.
In the Legislature, he's back on the Transportation and Public Safety Appropriations Subcommittee, where he once was chairman. The second-ranking Republican in the House in terms of seniority, he is vice chairman of the Rules Committee and serves on the Judiciary Committee.
"I'm having a good time. This is the Legislature I remember," Strong said.
Strong served six terms in the House before losing the District 65 seat in the 1986 election. He had been feeling the symptoms of MS for a number of years, but both he and his doctors had mistaken the illness for various other ailments. He said the official diagnosis was made two years ago this month.
Strong said that as the 1988 election approached, he wanted to run again but worried that no one would vote for a candidate with MS. He filed anyway but fretted over the prospect of conducting a campaign from a wheelchair or the cart.
His attitude began to change during a "meet the candidates" gathering in Springville. When it came his turn to speak, Strong hesitated, but then drove the cart onto the platform and lowered the microphone.
"The darndest thing happened. I've given a thousand political speeches. People don't listen to those things, but . . . they listened to me. I don't know what that means _ they might have been fascinated with my cart _ but the point was, I found that people would listen," he said. "In your mind you think, `Nobody is going to vote for me because I have MS.' That's probably not true."
Strong said he knows his condition could worsen at any time. Although he can walk little, he still has good control of his eyes and head. But he is finding it more difficult to keep his hands steady.
He said he fears the day when he can no longer sing high tenor for his ward's choir or play the piano during priesthood meetings. But until then, he plans to continue doing as much as he can.
"If you're going to accept these things, you might as well do it with style. You don't want to make a nuisance of yourself," he said. "They told me I could plan on living 35 years with MS. That would make me 75. That's when the Strongs die anyway."