Friday Focus: Kirsten Doty Talks About Running With Epilepsy

Photo by Craig Amoss

Huntingtown's Kirsten Doty was one of the fastest freshmen in Maryland last season. She finished 24th at the 3A State championships in the fall, helping the Hurricanes finish fourth as a team. After playing basketball during the winter, she returned to the track in the spring and clocked season bests of 2:28 in the 800 and 5:49 in the 1600.

Beneath these impressive performances, however, is a condition that makes an already strenuous sport even tougher. Doty was diagnosed with epilepsy which can lead to seizures, sometimes with little to no warning. Doty reached out to MileSplit to discuss how running has changed for her since her diagnosis, and how she plans on managing her epilepsy and perform at a high level.

(MileSplit student writers Derek Oppenheim, Brian Lau and Joel Simpson contributed to this interview.)

MileSplit: Did your epilepsy symptoms begin when you started running? How did the diagnosis come about?

Kirsten Doty: So, the only symptom I can remember having is having a drink that tasted off before I had my first seizure. The diagnosis came about because after having my second seizure - thankfully I was already in the hospital - my doctors at Children's National ran tests and I tested positive for epilepsy. Then I had three more seizures.

MS: How has epilepsy affected you, both in running and in everyday life?

KD: Since my diagnosis, running has been very different. I used to be able to go off and run in the woods; now, I have to have a buddy with their phone. In the beginning I could barely run (just running a 400 on the track was hard because I had no balance). Thankfully I have amazing teammates who were there to help me out. Everyday life is different, too. I am always nervous about seizing and can't watch certain movies and do things like swim by myself or drive.

MS: Have you reached out to anybody else that you know has run with epilepsy? Have you researched stories of others who have run with epilepsy to try and get some advice?

KD: I haven't talk to any epileptics who run, but I will definitely try to reach out to other runners with epilepsy now... Not really, but I haven't really looked, either.

MS: Is there anything else you have to do when preparing for practice and races now that you've been diagnosed?

KD: Well, now before races and practices I have to turn on this monitor I have in my watch that will alert certain people if I have a seizure. The only other thing is that I have to pay attention to anything that feels off. Some people have an aura when they're about to seize and I have to tell someone if I feel that so I avoid having a seizure in a race.

Photo by John Roemer

MS: When did you start running? Did you come into high school familiar with the program at Huntingtown?

KD: I started running my freshman year just to get in shape for basketball. I actually had no intention of running cross country, but Mr. Spain made running fun and has changed a team into a family where everyone is accepted.

MS: How much did running with state champion Oakley Olson help your growth in training?

KD: Running with Oakley really pushed all of us. She works so hard and pushed us to another level. Whenever I had a question about the workout or how to improve something, she made time to help me out and that helped me in training so much.

MS: Did the team dynamic change at all when she transferred to Northern? Did it take some time getting used to running workouts without her?

KD: Not really. Our team is like a family and when bad things happen it bring families closer together. While we will miss Oakley and what she brought to the team, losing her brought us closer together... I don't think so. As a team we kind of just accepted it and moved on, but it did take some time to adjust to seeing her winning races in a Northern uniform.

MS: What have you learned about yourself while running throughout your career so far?

KD: Running has taught me that if you don't give everything when you train it shows when you race; the times will show that. It's taught me that you can't give in when your mind is telling you just to slow down. You have to rule out your mind. While running I've learned while I might not be the fastest, I'm determined and tough, and having epilepsy shows that too. I've learned that running really shows you what you're made of, and that I really enjoy a good challenge and racing my friends.

Photo by Brandon Miles

MS: Do you have any messages you wish to share with runners who have to cope with similar illnesses?

KD: You're not alone. It's hard and not a lot of people are going to understand what you're going through, but you just have to keep fighting because in the end it's so worth it.

MS: Do you ever feel like epilepsy has held you back as a runner? Are there ways you try to manage those feelings?

KD: Yes, for awhile I couldn't run the warmup laps because of my balance and weakness. Now I'm just nervous running out of sight of my coaches in the woods, but my teammates are amazing because they help me out and they're so encouraging, and the coaches are just great! My teammate Tori was my running buddy the other day and that was nice of her to stay with me. Yes I just try to forget about having a seizure and have a conversation with my running buddy or just focus on the next hill and just run - and for a little bit my life is pretty normal.

Quick Questions:

Favorite running moment?

I passed a teammate last year at the very end of an invitational and now it's just fun to look at the picture of me coming from behind (and her reaction).

Favorite moment on the basketball court?

In middle school my teammate made a shot to send a game into double overtime. Then, I made a floater that send the game into triple overtime, but I missed the game-winner and that was a bummer.

Favorite track and field event?

I love any event where I get to run the 800, like the 4x800, open 800 or DMR.

Favorite running shoe?

My track spikes, the Brooks Wire V5.

Favorite post-race meal?

Either a sub from Subway or a Chick-fil-A chicken sandwich, but Mike n Ike's are the best post-race dessert.