Briana Landis is currently ranked No. 1 in her senior class at A.L. Brown. This semester, her final one, she welcomes the challenge of taking four advanced placement classes.
She is a vital long distance runner on the Wonders’ track and field team and she has been an all-conference and all-county cross country runner, a testament to her long history of running. She ran in her first competitive race as a 2-year old.
In her spare time, Landis likes to read books – just about any genre, but mostly the classics. And she likes to sew, especially making pillows out of old, commemorative T-shirts.
Those are the things Landis doesn’t mind being known for. What she doesn’t want to define her is perhaps the one thing that has the potential to dictate her life in more ways than any of those other things.
Landis has multiple sclerosis.
Multiple Sclerosis is “a disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain and between the brain and the body,” according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
Though Landis is a regular ambassador for educating people about MS, many that know her well are surprised that she has it because she doesn’t outwardly show any symptoms.
What most observers don’t see are the semi-daily injections she takes to control her MS, and some of the symptoms she regularly conceals and overcomes such as headaches, fatigue and itchiness.
“I don’t want my MS to define me,” Landis said. “That’s my big thing. I want people to know me for other stuff. But I do like to spread the word about it. And I do want to find a cure for it because I don’t like taking shots.”
Landis is the daughter of Kathi and Brian Landis. Kathi is a guidance counselor in Mooresville Graded School District, and Brian is an A.L. Brown guidance counselor and head coach of the school’s track and field, and cross country teams.
The Landis’ are a family that often does things together, and that includes running. While attending the annual Dogwood Festival in Kathi’s hometown of Farmville, Briana ran a couple laps around a local track as a 2-year-old in a kids race.
Briana attended Kannapolis’ Jackson Park Elementary School where her mom worked at the time. Kathi started a running club called the J.P. Runner Girls and Briana, then a fifth grader, was a member.
By that time, Briana had already been diagnosed with MS and had tackled most of her critical symptoms. She experienced the disease’s first signs as a 4-year-old when an ophthalmologist determined her optic nerve was swollen, which was negatively affecting her eye sight.
Doctors formally diagnosed Briana with MS at age 5, which is when she started taking regular injections of the MS drug Betaseron. She had a relapse when she was 8 years old, leading to a week-long hospital stay only days before her sister Caramia was born.
Since then, Briana has managed to stay ahead of most of her symptoms. She says that one of her favorite pastimes – running – has been therapeutic for her MS because it has helped reduce the size of the lesions on her brain.
Briana has run long distance at A.L. Brown since her freshman year. She was named to the South Piedmont 3A all-conference cross country team during her first two seasons. Since A.L. Brown was bumped up to 4A in 2013, Briana has twice achieved All-Cabarrus County status.
During her junior season of outdoor track and field, Briana was a member of the Wonders’ 4x800-meter relay team that qualified for regionals.
“Some (teammates) know she has MS and there are some that don’t,” said Brian Landis. “She’s more of an inspiration, not because she has MS, but because she’s a hard worker and puts in the miles. She’s a leader on the team. Later on (teammates) find out and they say ‘Wow, I’m tired out there but she’s probably more tired than me.’”
Over the past three months, Briana has experienced routine headaches and is trying to find a balance between medications to overcome them. She’s looking forward to a track and field season in which she can cut her times in the mile and 2-mile races.
Long-term, doctors have told her that she can expect to lead a normal life, as long as her lesions continue to reduce in size and her medications continue to work.
Briana plans on studying pre-med in college, hoping that one day she will be a pediatrician and help find a cure for multiple sclerosis.
Joe Habina is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Joe? Email him at email@example.com.