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Clay Walker is Helping Change Lives


Clay Walker is becoming as well-known for his work on behalf of multiple sclerosis research as he is for being a country music star.

The country music star shares his battle with multiple sclerosis and offers a message of hope

By Rebecca Maitland

Country music star Clay Walker and the nonprofit organization he founded in 2003, Band Against MS (BAMS), hosted the sixth annual Give MS The Boot Gala at the Royal Sonesta Houston Hotel in Houston on October 12. Nearly $175,000 was raised at the event to help find a cure for MS.

Walker, 48, was diagnosed with relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS), the most common form of the disease, in 1996. Through his partnership with Teva Pharmaceuticals, he shares his personal journey so he can be a resource for all those affected by the disease. Approximately 400,000 Americans have been diagnosed with MS, with 200 more diagnosed every week. The majority of people are diagnosed in their 20s and 30s, just as Walker was.

“I was playing in Calgary, and suddenly I could not feel my hands or feet. I had double vision, and I was falling down,” he recalled. “The next day I went to a Houston hospital. I thought I had a pinched nerve or something, but the tests came back as multiple sclerosis or MS. I was told that in four years I’d be in a wheelchair and dead in eight. This was a very tragic day in my life.”

Walker started researching MS, which led him to a leading MS doctor, Jerry Wolinsky, who took Walker under his wing and began treating him. Under Wolinsky’s treatment plan, Walker has not had a relapse in 19 years. Walker follows the treatment program very carefully, eats healthily, takes shots of Copaxone three times a week and stays physically active.

Today the best medicine for MS is exercise, which helps build the immune system. “I stay active. Like the cliché, I understand a body in motion stays in motion,” Walker said. “Even if it is difficult, I move. I also eat well. I eat vegetables and fish for dinner. Once a week I have a steak and some red wine. It is a very rare day that I eat fast food.”

For those living with MS, Walker recommends having strong relationships, a support system, and keeping your mind active – feed your mind, love and be loved – and follow the plan your doctor gives you.

 

The BAMS Gala

Today, Walker’s BAMS events fill ballrooms in Houston, and are followed the next day with a well-attended open discussion forum on MS with some of the most highly respected doctors in the world. BAMS educates people on how to better live with MS and seek appropriate treatment, and it funds programs researching a cure. Thus far, these annual BAMS events have raised more than $2 million.

The crowd of over 200 at the Royal Sonesta enjoyed an hour-long live concert by Walker, a live and silent auction, and dinner. Mistress of Ceremony Debra Duncan, a local icon and TV personality, was also a part of this successful event.

“The forum the next day had the greatest scientific minds on the planet for MS, even though they all specialize in different parts of MS. This forum was packed to the walls because we all need, want and crave information on how to live with MS,” Walker said.

He wants to keep the conversations going about MS, which his galas and forums promote, because there is no cure. Yet, with the funds for research Walker is raising, and keeping the conversation going, maybe a cure will come.

 

Hurricane Harvey Hits Home

Walker was born on August 19, 1969, in Beaumont, the oldest of five children. He still has family there.

“My mother, aunt and first cousin all were heavily affected by Hurricane Harvey, and did not have flood insurance. My mother lost her home, yet her attitude was still positive. When I called her, she said they had been through worse and would be fine,” Walker said.

Walker lived in Houston most of his life and continues to have a home here. He also has a home in Tennessee.

“Houston is a great city. I continue to be proud of this city, especially all of the first responders during the hurricane. It is a blessing that more lives were not lost, which is attributed to the great people and responders who were risking their lives to save others. The mayor of Houston and all of Houston’s leadership did a fantastic job,” Walker said.  He was back in H-town for  Game 5 of the World Series at Minute Maid Park, where he sang the national anthem before the excited crowd.

 

The Road to Stardom

Walker’s journey to stardom and platinum-selling albums was long, “but it was fun. I had a lot of help, teachers and mentors, and moral support,” he said.

Walker lived in Vidor with his father, who gave him a guitar when he was 9 years old. “I started playing when I was 12 years old just around the household. Then I started progressing and matured,” Walker recalled.

Walker says he knew early that he wanted to be a country recording artist. When he was 16 and working nights as a desk clerk at a Super 8 Motel, he took a tape of a song he wrote to a nearby radio station. The disc jockey told him it was against corporate policy to play such tapes on the air.

“I was heartbroken. I left the studio and got in my car,” Walker remembers. “As I was driving away I heard on the radio, ‘Folks, I’m not supposed to do this, but this song is just too good to pass up. This song was written by a hometown boy, his name is Clay Walker!’ ”

It was one of the highlights of his career and a turning point. Walker began to make a name for himself playing in Texas honky tonks. “I just knew after seeing others do it that if I kept trying hard, then maybe I could get my break, too,” he said.

After he played at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo early in his career, the praise he earned from local radio and print media got Nashville’s attention and helped launch his career.

In November 1992, Walker was discovered by a record producer in Nashville who was also the president of Warner Music Group, and Walker signed to the subsidiary Giant Records later in the year. The rest, you might say, is history.

His biggest hits include What’s It to You, Live Until I Die, Where Do I Fit in the Picture, This Woman and This Man, and Dreaming with My Eyes Open.

 

A New Reason to Follow the Game Plan

Walker and his wife Jessica recently welcomed a new baby to their family. The proud dad revealed the news via his Facebook page on Nov. 3, writing, “Our newest angel!! Ezra Stephen Walker has arrived! He and Mama are healthy and home :) Blessed… thank you for your prayers always.”

Walker is mindful of all his blessings. “I want to keep MS at bay. I now have six beautiful kids and a wonderful wife. My partnership with my doctor is very important because I know if I don’t take care of myself, I cannot take care of those I love,” he said.

Clay Walker with the chairs of his recent Give MS the Boot Gala, Fernando Parra and Dr. Kelly Larkin.

Walker (second from right) at the sixth annual MS Forum Open Discussion with leading MS researchers and specialists (l-r) Jerry S. Wolinsky, M.D.; William Lindsey, M.D.; John A. Lincoln, M.D., Ph.D.; and Leorah Freeman, M.D., Ph.D.

 

Clay Walker


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