According to Lucie Linder, sometimes you have to do the most ballsy thing in order to find yourself.
While this sounds like something you’d read on a motivational poster, after a few minutes in Lucie’s company, it’s clear the 50-year-old New Yorker is not one for empty platitudes. After all, this is a woman who left a promising medical career to become a jump rope athlete, and later, tackled an MS diagnosis in her own singl—minded way.
Raised in a French Caribbean family in Queens, Lucie excelled at high school. Encouraged by her family, she went on to medical school, graduating at the top of her class and going on to work out her residency at Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx. However, two years into her career, her world came crashing down, as the abusive childhood she’d so effectively repressed came flooding back during a pediatrics placement.
“It was getting too close for comfort,” Lucie says. “I’d locked all of this stuff up tight, but it just started coming out. I’d finish an 18-hour shift and go home and cry all night. I started thinking about why I was here. I realized it wasn’t what I wanted to do. I did it because I wanted to please my family, to get love and attention from my mom.”
“I started thinking about why I was here. I realized [being a doctor] wasn’t what I wanted to do.”
Lucie decided to turn her back on medicine. She calls it an epiphany. Her friends and colleagues called it crazy, and her family wanted nothing to do with her. “People thought I was insane, or depressed. How could I step away?”
But step away she did, moving into a new era of her life that saw the self-described Type A overachiever turn her obsessive need to succeed to a new goal: becoming a jump rope champion.
Around the time she quit medicine, Lucie had been jumping rope for a year or so. As someone who was “never athletic,” she was surprised when she picked up a rope at a gym one day and found she had a natural sense of rhythm and coordination. Jumping rope was easy, and she loved it.
“[Jumping rope] is such a high, I feel like I can do anything. It requires so much skill and co-ordination; it’s beautiful when you jump rope beautifully.”
Jumping became her hobby, and then, her therapy. That is, until late one night, when she saw something on television that made her sit up straight with excitement.
“[Jumping rope] is such a high, I feel like I can do anything.”
“One night, I sat down on the couch and turned on ESPN and saw kids jumping rope really fast. I wanted to do that.”
With characteristic single-mindedness, Lucy got in touch with USA Jump Rope, the leading American jump roping body. It took a lot of calls, but eventually, she convinced them to let her compete in the 2005 National Championships without going through any qualifying rounds.
“They told me, ‘good luck, because you’re going to get destroyed out there’.”
She wasn’t destroyed: Lucie wound up winning three gold medals in her age group. “I was the oldest in that group and I beat the best in the US.”
Her success spurred Lucie to create a business around her skill, a jump rope gym where kids could get healthy, and go on to compete, becoming “an army of champions in New York.”
But in 2007, she hit another speed bump. This time, it wasn’t her past, but a glimpse into her future that tipped her world upside down.
“I started having numbness in my fingers, my eyes started burning, and I had severe headaches. The doctors thought it was because I’m highly strung, or maybe I was depressed because I left medicine. But I’m a doctor, I knew something was wrong.”
Tests showed Lucie had multiple sclerosis. “I said, what? No,” she remembers. “It can’t be. I was jumping rope like a fiend. My motor function skills were on point. You can’t tell me I have MS.”
“I was jumping rope like a fiend. My motor function skills were on point. You can’t tell me I have MS.”
But when an MRI scan highlighted the lesions on her brain, she knew it was true. “They told me not only would I not be able to compete anymore, but that in eight months I’d be in a wheelchair.”
Lucie started a course of Rebif (interferon). Determined to not lose any ground with her exercise regime, she kept up her punishing jump rope routine and kept to a healthy diet. But eventually, she tired of the side effects, as well as the cost. At two thousand dollars a dose, Lucie couldn’t afford to go on paying for the treatment.
“I decided to go the holistic way. My doctors told me I was crazy: I had numbness, my knees were buckling, I was walking with a gait. But five years ago they’d also told me that I’d be in a wheelchair in eight months.
“Scans showed the lesions were still there. My doctor was confused that I wasn’t getting any worse. I’d been doing something that was keeping this from progressing.”
Four years down the line, Lucie’s pretty stable, although she still suffers from headaches, tingles in her hands and knee weakness. She’s also seen more change in her life: after a whirlwind romance in 2013 with her now-husband, Staffan, she moved to Stockholm, Sweden.
Her new life has thrown up a whole lot of challenges, including an initial decline in health. The stress of adjustment sent her to the local MS clinic for an intravenous course of Solu-Medrol.
Determined to create an army of Swedish jump ropers, Lucie’s teaching the sport in schools and to children in the city’s poorer areas.
There were also a few unexpected cultural differences. Determined to create an army of Swedish jump ropers, Lucie’s teaching the sport in schools and to children in the city’s poorer areas. She’s built up a successful business, but it hasn’t been easy. Swedes are generally reserved, says Lucie, and people sometimes don’t know how to respond to her natural exuberance.
“Sweden is very white, people are shocked to see a big, black, loud woman, coming here trying to shake it up.”
But Lucie’s persisting. And no matter what’s going on in her life, she still jumps rope every single day. “It’s exhilarating, I lose myself in it. It’s the crack cocaine therapy of my day. It makes me feel that no matter I want to conquer, I can do it.”