When actress Tamara Feldman was unexpectedly diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis last year, she decided to use it as fuel to do something she's always wanted to do - a cross-country trip on horseback. It may not have been something she would have ever done before, but when a doctor told her she might only have 10 years left to walk, she thought about what she'd want to do with those 10 years.
Wanting to challenge herself both physically and mentally while incorporating her love for horses, she chose this crazy journey. Not only is crossing the country a personal challenge, but she's also doing it to raise money and awareness for MS.
MS is an unpredictable and sometimes debilitating autoimmune disease that can damage or disrupt the central nervous system. While there is no cure, medication can help manage symptoms and recover from an MS attack.
We had the great pleasure of chatting with Feldman about her upcoming adventure with her horse Bow which she will document on her site, And So I Ride. Starting in Savannah, Georgia, Feldman hopes to make it somewhere north of Los Angeles in a matter of eight months.
"Well, you have goals, but you have to be flexible," Feldman explains. "In dreamland we would ride 20 miles a day, but in reality, he'll probably ride 11 to 15 miles per day. Then you have to ride four days on, two days off, to give the horse resting time and you resting time. Then, every thousand miles, you rest for two weeks."
We asked Feldman what inspired her to share this journey with the world since one of the first doctors she saw actually encouraged her not to tell anyone at all. "I'm an extremist. I'm also an open book, and I can't help telling people everything," she shares.
Explaining the doctor's mode of thinking, she acknowledges, "He lives in LA, he's in the entertainment industry and he was older, and that used to be the way you had to do it with MS. Because when you're working on a job, they think, if you get an attack, you could shut down production, and that's a real concern, I guess, and it would cost a lot of money."
He didn't want her to ruin her acting career by sharing her diagnosis, but it didn't take long for Feldman to feel that keeping hush about it wasn't for her. "I can't not talk about what's going on with me," she says of trying to keep it quiet on set, "I felt very fake, not being able to talk about it. I just have to be myself."
That same doctor told her to plan on being in a wheelchair in 10 years, which isn't even necessarily true with today's medication. Feldman began working on And So I Ride, perhaps as a way to cope, using her diagnosis as fuel to do something she'd always wanted to but never thought she actually would. "Now I'm kind of glad he said that," she says of the timeline the doctor put on her. "Because it gave me the mindset of saying, 'I'm going to live like I could be in a wheelchair tomorrow and do everything I want to do.'"
Feldman's love of horses started about 10 years ago when she was cast in a movie that required her to train for a few months riding horses every day. The movie never got made, but her love for riding stuck. Now, she's doing something with that passion.
On why she chose to do this extreme trip to raise awareness and money, Feldman says, "I knew I wanted to do something where I had to train and be physical. I think that's a common response. I've heard of a lot of people that start running marathons or doing triathlons because you're so scared of losing your muscles that you just want to do something where you're using them all the time."
She wanted to be among those diagnosed with MS who choose to stay physical and become adventurers. She had initially hoped to make her trip solo with just Bow, but she wanted to stay practical in hopes of achieving her goal. She will have a travel companion driving a camper who will help her retrieve water for Bow and find a place for them to sleep.
"He will lead and start knocking on doors and asking people if we can camp on their land or in their pasture," Tamara says. "Once we get out West, I'll get a packhorse and lead him, and I'll only see him every three or four days.
Feldman also has sage advice to share with anyone diagnosed with an illness that they are struggling to cope with. "You get online and you start looking. You could find so much stuff to scare you and so many horror stories, but you can also find people who have used it and turned their life around to make it above and beyond what it would have been. ... Just find people who have turned their diagnosis into something positive."
She'd be crazy if she wasn't a little worried about the trip, though. Her biggest hurdle at the present is that Bow is a little spooked around traffic, so the first couple of weeks will be a challenge. As for the remainder of the trip, it's the heat mixed with the MS fatigue -- part of the reason she'll be traveling with someone and have a camper. Everything else about the trip she's looking forward to -- being in nature and challenging herself physically and mentally.
Feldman has received all of the funds and supplies needed to complete her adventure. Now, every donation that you make on And So I Ride will go directly to Nancy Davis' Race to Erase MS foundation. The cause is one that Feldman handpicked for a few different reasons. For one, Nancy Davis created the Center Without Walls which brings doctors together to share the results of their MS treatments and research. The foundation has also funded several of the drugs that are now being used to treat MS.
What's so inspiring about Feldman is that she's making a dream come true instead of waiting for the worst that may or may not come. Whether she finishes the cross-country trek or not, the point is that she tried it, she took that leap and she spread awareness about something dear to her heart.
"I wouldn't have done this if I wouldn't have gotten diagnosed. I probably would have just sat in L.A. and did auditions and been kind of miserable." She continues, "But [the diagnosis] kind of gave me the fire to do something. I'm in the very beginning of it, and who knows how it's going to be. I could have a very mild case and maybe I'll be good for a long time, and if not, at least I tried to do something that was wild and crazy."