Overcoming Spina Bifida

Misty Diaz Uses Her Rare Disability to Inspire Others

WORDS BY: MONICA GALLARDO
PHOTOS BY: WILLIAM ODIS MARTIN

Hot pink crutches, red lipstick and Spina Bifida.

Misty Diaz has used these three unlikely characteristics to establish her name in the world of fitness. The 32-year-old Long Beach resident travels the world, participating in obstacle course races and marathons while motivating others to test their limits.

Her social media is littered with fitness-related content, garnering messages of admiration from people throughout the country. One user on her Instagram said, “Every day I see your posts, and you continue to inspire and motivate me.”

But Diaz was not always the inspiring adaptive athlete that so many look up to.

She was born with Myelomeningocele, the most severe form of Spina Bifida. It is a defect in which part of the spinal cord is exposed through a gap in the backbone, causing leg weakness and paralysis.

A total of 28 operations beginning when she was just three days old led to bullying, depression and an addiction to prescription drugs.

“Having a disability comes with a lot, and to add on top of that, kids didn’t know how to treat me,” Diaz said.

She has been called things such as “worthless,” “loser” and “pathetic,” and with no knowledge of anyone else who had Spina Bifida, Diaz did not know how to overcome the disability.

“I think when we’re battling something for so long, and you’re doing it alone pretty much, you tend to think of other options,” she said. “Sadly one of my options was suicide. I felt like I had reached my limit. My poor body had been through so much at such a young age.”

Diaz attempted suicide three times, but she is now thankful that she failed in that aspect.

“Finally, I just said enough and restarted my life,” she said. “I hit that bottom that many talk about.”

Hitting rock bottom led Diaz to try to give up depression medication, but she unexpectedly had a friend by her side during this time — a black-and-white chihuahua and Pomeranian mix named Lola.

“I got her by accident, and it was the best thing ever,” Diaz said. “She was on the way to the pound. She saved me.”

Having this new friend by her side forced Diaz to be more active and focused her attention on keeping Lola busy. Lola is now seven-years-old and a registered service dog who completed her first race with Diaz in October 2016.

“She’s the best thing that’s ever happened to my life… Having a dog is an amazing thing,” she said. “It teaches you how to be selfless, consistent and makes you extremely happy.”

With the support of her friends and family, Diaz knew it was time for a change.

Frequent walks from her apartment to the next block became 5K races, 10K races, obstacle courses and races as far as Canada. She is a three-time world record owner in Spartan Racing and owns another world record with the Red Bull program.

Her perseverance has allowed her to become a motivational speaker for children and families of those with Spina Bifida.

“The kids I’ve met along my journey who have Spina Bifida are pretty amazing,” she said. “No one is greater.”

Diaz said she never expected to become an inspirational figure, but she continues to use her story as a positive example and invites anyone who needs help to contact her at her website lilmisty.com.

“The best way we can learn from one another is by example,” she said. “If everyone did that we could help a lot more people in the world today.”