By JOE McFARLAND
There’s an old saying about the journey of a thousand miles starting with a single step.
Calgarian Myles Creran had one journey in mind as a young athlete but ended up having to take a step off that path at the age of 12.
It was towards a new destination no one could see coming.
“I actually remember coming home from school, doing some homework during the May long weekend and I had a baseball tournament coming up,” the University of Calgary Dinos utility-man reminisced. “And I just couldn’t see a few words on the page.”
He didn’t think much of it, thinking maybe he just needed a nap. But then his sight in his right eye started to get worse. So he went to a clinic doctor and Creran remembers thinking it might have been a scratch on the cornea, perhaps from shale while playing baseball.
Not a big deal – or so he thought.
“By the end of the week, I was completely blind in that eye,” Creran told Alberta Dugout Stories. “They sent me to the hospital and found out it was optic neuritis.”
While trying to get the inflammation down and settle the nerves, doctors started trying to figure out what had caused the condition in the young baseball player. After a year of testing, they finally came to a diagnosis: multiple sclerosis (MS).
“Being 12 or 13, I thought it was like a cold,” Creran laughed. “I was like ‘when is this going to go away’ and was asking when I was going to be able to play baseball again.”
His father, Chris, remembers one particular visit to the doctor’s office.
“He asks the doctor, ‘How long do I have until I’m in a wheelchair?'” Chris said, choking back tears. “When it’s yourself, you learn to deal with it. But when it’s your child, you don’t know where to turn.”
According to the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada, 1 in 385 Canadians live with the disease. It’s most-often diagnosed in young adults, between the ages of 15 and 40.
That may be part of the reason why, for the first years, Creran didn’t really feel the effects of MS. It wasn’t until he got into high school when he started to realize he was getting tired more often and his reading and thinking skills started to diminish.
He had his first big battle with the disease at the age of 16, when he lost the strength in his hands and feet. He could barely walk up and down the stairs, feeling like his right foot was heavier than the other.
But Creran tried to battle through it, particularly in class at Bishop Grandin High School.
“It’s two stories but I didn’t want to use the elevator so I took the stairs,” he laughed. “I was late to every single class because it took forever to get up those stairs.”
The teachers might not have been that impressed with Creran but he wasn’t bothered by it. He had bigger things on his mind – like sports.
Creran was a baseball and hockey player, but decided to stick with baseball and made his way through youth programs in Calgary. He ascended up the system and made the University of Calgary Dinos. The 2017-2018 campaign marked his third season with the team as he studies, not surprisingly, science.
“Funny enough, my doctor showed me a study done on rats and found there’s an over 200-percent increase in myelin growth when you’re active,” Creran beamed. “So in the end, playing ball and being active, it’s really saving me.”
He’s learned about the importance of diet and how the weather can affect him, particularly those hot summer days on the diamond.
“Our last game of playoffs this year, it must have been 36-degrees out. I had just played the game before and I sat down on the bench for two minutes,” Creran said. “I tried to get up and went, ‘Oh wow, I actually can’t get up right now.'”
That’s when he knows he has to have some fruit or a granola bar to give him some more energy to get back on the field.
It never crossed his father’s mind that maybe baseball wasn’t the right way to exert his energy. But Chris said he did have a piece of advice for his boy.
“If you can’t do it, rest is okay too,” the elder Creran said. “You have to find the time where the others don’t have this so you might have to take a backseat but you will be back.”
It’s not just Creran that wants to be in the lineup every day. His Dino teammates want to see him succeed as well because of what he brings both on and off the turf.
When asked who his favourite teammate was for our “1 Thru 9” series this season, pitcher Taylor Roberge answered with Creran’s name.
“I’ve played with him since I was 15,” Roberge said. “He’s just a real inspiration.”
Mike Ozga was another teammate who sang the praises of Creran.
@m_ozga13 @Matt_Korman41, @drizzle1818 @SideArmNation and Myles Creran supporting the Field of Dreams Charity Softball classic…. doing a little too well apparently… #LetThemPlay https://t.co/tofCCrGDwZ
— UCalgary Dinos Baseball ⚾️ (@UCDinosbaseball) August 11, 2018
“You’ll never see him without a smile on his face,” the former Edmonton Prospects infielder said. “To see how passionate he is about the game of baseball is something we can all learn from him.”
The reaction from just those two teammates was enough to leave Creran speechless.
“That’s actually kind of hard to hear,” Creran said. “That’s crazy. I never would have thought that.”
The jovial 20-year-old tries to never take anything for granted.
“I might have realized somewhere along the line that maybe I don’t have as much time to play baseball like the other guys,” he said. “That’s where I kind of got to a point where I just want to have so much fun.”
While baseball is a game where you need to have a positive mindset, Creran points to how it’s also a game of failure.
“It makes me so mad when guys are getting down on themselves,” he said. “It’s baseball. You go 0-for-3 one day and guys are pissed off, but sometimes you don’t realize there’s a game the next day.”
Creran’s father bursts with pride at the idea that his son is making a positive influence on his teammates. An athlete himself, Chris looks back at teammates that he grew to respect and admire and realized many had the same attributes Myles has.
One in particular is his desire to put the team first, even if he’s not in the starting lineup.
“I think that’s one of the toughest things to do in upper-level sports,” Chris said. “We’ve had so many people contact us and tell us what a great man he is. It’s probably the proudest you could be.”
His coach with the Dinos, Geoff Freeborn, has seen Creran play since his Babe Ruth days. But it wasn’t until this past year that he learned what the 5-foot-10, right-hander goes through.
“Hopefully he gives his teammates a little bit of inspiration for what he has to go through just to play, day in and day out,” Freeborn told Alberta Dugout Stories. “Just for a simple practice, it’s pretty incredible and pretty impressive.”
THE ROAD AHEAD
The challenge with multiple sclerosis is its unpredictability. One minute you will feel fine and the next minute you don’t have the energy to do the simplest of tasks. It’s why Creran takes full advantage of the good days.
“A lot of people don’t even believe me when I tell them,” he said. “If you see me on the bench, I’m just a big goofball. I want us to win, but I also want to have a good time.”
It’s helped him go a long way, according to his coach.
“He tried out for Babe Ruth winter team and the regional team and unfortunately didn’t make those teams, but he kept playing and plugging along,” Freeborn said. “He’s still playing collegiate baseball ahead of guys that did make those teams and they’re done playing. That’s a credit to him.”
Freeborn’s grit and determination inspired him to help with Creran’s cause. In June, he pledged proceeds from some T-shirt sales at his Sidearm Nation website to the MS Society of Canada. He had done a similar campaign for a sidearm pitcher at the University of Southern Alabama who was battling cancer previously.
.for the month of June all proceeds from this classic Sidearmnation tee will go to the @MSSocietyCanada – @UCDinosbaseball INF @myles_creran is an inspiration for all athletes! pic.twitter.com/yD7TjvvKxs
— Geoff Freeborn 🇨🇦🇬🇧 (@SideArmNation) June 4, 2018
While awareness was part of Freeborn’s goal, he also appreciates how Creran has reinforced the idea of not taking the game for granted.
“My brother has cerebral palsy, so I know personally that’s what helped me get to the next level,” Freeborn said. “At the end of the day, there are worse things in life than having a bad day on the mound.”
It’s the support from his family, coaches and teammates that fuel Creran to keep going, despite the difficult journey ahead.
He underwent a special treatment in August, a type of chemotherapy which left him isolated for about a week as his immune system was compromised. Despite a rough patch, he was back on his feet relatively quickly. Chris said his son was chomping at the bit to get to school and start working out again. He also admits Myles came home the first couple of days exhausted, but happy.
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Shortly after I turned 20 this year I was told my MS had become aggressive and I needed to go through chemotherapy… so here’s me today, 3 days into my treatment and not really feeling like myself anymore. I just wanted to thank all my friends, family, teammates and coaches that have supported me during this rough time and I can’t wait to be back on the field as soon as possible
Support is integral, according to Chris, but everyone approaches things differently.
“Stay involved,” he said. “You have to be there but you also have to give them space. It’s hard not to stick your face in it, but you do what you can.”
It’s mind over matter, which is something Myles hopes others will realize when hearing his story. He knows no two cases of MS are the same, which makes it that much more challenging to deal with.
“There’s nothing holding you back,” Creran said. “Fortunately, I might be considered one of the guys who is a little healthier with MS, based on my physical ability at the moment. In the end, there’s always a way to be a part of the community and the amount of support you get when you finally come out and try is just unbelievable.”
While he was recovering from his latest treatment, Creran’s teammates took to the field for the first time last week and took part in an intrasquad game. Creran is hopeful he will be joining them soon.