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Fight & Flight

Featured Photo from Fight & Flight

Despite a daily battle with multiple sclerosis, this Lake Mary athlete’s invention is helping him – and others – soar

Jan Carlos “JC” Salva was calmly driving home from a substitute teaching job at Seminole High School, when suddenly everything he saw appeared to double up. There were twice as many lanes, twice as many cars, twice as many lines on the road. Concerned with this frightening illusion, he pulled into a nearby emergency room.

The Lake Mary basketball player, volleyball player, and gymnastics coach was put through a battery of tests. The verdict? Multiple sclerosis.

“I was just, like, ‘What!?’” JC remembers asking. “What is that? Is that cancer? Is that life-threatening?”Almost immediately, JC, along with his wife Amber, began digesting, grieving, and researching the chronic disease.

“I learned I wouldn’t be able to drive a car again,” says JC. “I wouldn’t be able to watch movies or walk without a cane. There were a lot of losses to grieve.”

Even before the diagnosis, though, JC and Amber were already spending lots of time in doctors’ offices. They’d been trying to conceive for two years, and through their fertility battle, JC learned he had celiac disease.

But their grieving about JC’s MS didn’t last long. Just a week after his diagnosis, the Salvas discovered they were expecting a baby.

“MS sucks, but God answers prayers,” JC says. “It was what we needed. Finding out we were going to be parents was the boost that got me through the initial shock.”

With the arrival of their baby boy, David, JC felt a renewed sense of motivation. The lifelong athlete craved exercise, but he required a cane to even walk.

“I exercise every day, and I said to JC, come with me,” recalls Amber. “Walking was really hard – his legs would give out after five minutes because he couldn’t feel what was happening to them. There was no feedback.”

JC hated using a cane (“I felt like a pirate,” he grumbles). When he tried using a traditional walker, he hated it even more. So the lifelong tinkerer decided to invent his own mobility device.

“I began buying different walkers and manipulating them,” JC explains. “I decided, I’m going to make a walker run.”

The challenge with running for an MS patient is that there is no feedback from the ground. Runners spend a split second in flight during each stride, while both feet are in the air. Because those with MS can’t tell when they are in flight and can’t feel their lead foot hit the ground, running can be a dangerous and clumsy endeavor.

JC began making one adjustment after the next to his walker-turned-runner. With the help of Amber, friends, and neighbors, he added large tires, a phone holder to play music and track distances, and most importantly, side handlebars to suit the more natural movements of running with arms at your side – not in front like a typical walker would require.

“Because it’s so sturdy, it allows me to put weight on my arms during the flight,” says JC, “and my arm strength is decent.”

The result? JC calls his invention the FARA – Flight Approximating Running Aid.

When he first took it for a spin around his neighborhood, JC successfully ran a mile... in 20 minutes and 1 second.

“The pure joy on his face was amazing,” Amber recalls. “We were both crying. He was sweating – which he was proud of because he actually got a workout.”

Since then, JC has taken his FARA to a local 5k race, which he proudly completed with the help of his neighbor, JJ West. JC not only has plans to complete more races, but he also intends to run one mile every day, culminating in 366 miles in 2020. He’s already ahead of schedule, now finishing miles in the eight-minute range.

The Salvas want to get the FARA into the hands of other runners who could use it, so they are looking for a patent attorney.

“My intent is not fiscal – I just want to give someone that moment,” says JC. “That moment when they realize they can run after everyone told them they would never do it again.”

JC is careful to note that MS is different for everyone, that “there is no track,” he says. “I don’t want to be a comparison point, I want to be an inspiration point.”

The 36-year-old MS athlete exudes humility when he speaks, giving credit to his neighbors and friends for helping him build the FARA and running with him every day. 

JC also credits his parents. “I get my work ethic from my dad and my tenacity from my mom,” he says, “and they let me take apart the TV and microwave growing up.”

He thanks his siblings for insisting he keep fighting; God for “trusting me and giving me everything I need,” JC says; and Amber, “who inspires me to keep on fighting in those moments. When I can’t walk or see, she is what keeps me going.”

Most of all, JC says he persists for his infant son, David.

“There is going to be a day when he learns to ride a bike,” JC says, “and he’s going to look at me and say, ‘It’s too hard, Daddy.’ If I give up, I’ll have no right to tell him that he has to keep going. I want him to be able to look at me and say, ‘My Daddy kept pushing, so can I.’”

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