Multi-platinum country star Clay Walker is known for hit songs like “What’s It To You” and “She Won’t Be Lonely Long” that have spanned his nearly 30-year career, so fans may be surprised to learn that he has been living with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) since 1996, a chronic and often debilitating disease.
Today, thanks to a successful treatment plan and healthy lifestyle, Walker is thriving both personally and professionally. He released his latest album Texas to Tennessee in 2021, which includes his current single, “Catching’ Up With an Ol’ Memory.”
The Texas native talked to Country Now about his journey with MS, revealing details of the recent attack that changed the course of his treatment, how he triumphantly manages his symptoms as both an entertainer and as a father, and the importance of being your own health advocate. Sitting across from Walker on his bus before a show in Marion, Illinois, you would never know that the “Live Until I Die” singer has managed MS for 26 years. Full of joy and energy, Walker enthusiastically chatted about life on the road and at home.
As an entertainer, touring plays a major role in Walker’s life. “I like to say that I sing for free and they pay me to be away from my family,” Walker laughed. “So travel’s the toughest part of it, but I gotta be honest, I wouldn’t wanna do anything else. I’ve always dreamed of doing this and every day that I get to walk on stage, I literally feel like I need to pinch myself.”
Touring can also present challenges for maintaining a healthy lifestyle to help manage his MS, but Walker makes it a priority when he’s on the road. “We keep the bus stocked with things that we need to stay healthy,” said Walker, talking about the importance of nutrition. “We also keep what we call the T-Rex. It’s this apparatus that we hook to the outside of the trailers and we’ll do all kinds of stretches and pull ups and presses. It’s just a great versatile piece of equipment to stay in shape.”
In addition to nutrition and exercise, taking the appropriate prescribed medication has helped Walker tremendously. For years, he was taking a daily injection to manage his MS, but a terrifying attack forced him to re-evaluate his treatment plan.
“A couple years ago, I had my first attack in a lot of years,” revealed Walker. “It was what they call a sensory attack and I couldn’t feel anything below my chest. It was a really tough time. It was a dark time, a scary time.”
MS occurs when the immune system attacks the area around nerve cells in the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves, which results in inflammation and damage. Symptoms vary from person to person and can include muscle weakness, fatigue, and vision problems. After the attack, Walker immediately consulted his doctor to find out what other treatment options might be available.
“I used to take a shot every day,” said Walker. “I switched to a medication called Ocrevus, which was something that my doctor had recommended because of the reduced amount of attacks that they saw with the medication.” Ocrevus is the first and only therapy approved for both relapsing MS (RMS) and primary progressive MS (PPMS), given as an infusion every six months. Walker has not had a relapse since starting the new treatment.
“It’s great that medications continue to improve. And I’m the benefactor of that… [it’s] a lot easier than taking a shot every day,” Walker added.
When the “Dreaming With My Eyes Open” singer isn’t on the road, you can find him at home, keeping up an active lifestyle with his wife Jessica and their five children. For Walker, it’s important that his kids don’t see him as having MS. “I hide it from my kids. I hide it from everybody if I can, but there’s certain times of the day that you’ll struggle or certain days you’ll struggle. And you don’t know the rhyme or reason why it’s like that… There are days that I can run and days that I can’t run so well and so I just make ’em do whatever I feel like I can do,” he laughed. “It might be playing football or soccer or it might just be standing still shooting hoops.”
Walker expressed his gratitude for being able to stay active. “I gotta say that I have a lot of mobility and I’m thankful and blessed for that.”
Although MS is considered one disease, it manifests in different ways for different people, including temperature sensitivity. For Walker, extreme cold can exacerbate MS symptoms. “If I’m in cold, I kind of look like the tin man trying to walk, all my muscles are just spastic and tough.”
But if you see Walker in concert, you’d never know that he occasionally deals with those symptoms. He embodies the passion of his music during his high-energy performances, interacting with fans and delivering his songs powerfully.
Walker’s passion spills over into helping fellow MS patients become their own health advocates, especially when it comes to prescription treatment. “I really think that it’s important for people, particularly people who have MS, to be their own health advocate. To look at it like, ‘Hey, this is my responsibility to take care of myself.’ I do meet people sometimes who are not on any medication,” said Walker. “And that always concerns me because I’ve done so well for so many years taking medication. I hope that anybody who’s reading this understands the importance that this is not a disease you can let go unchecked because the faster you can address the issue, the better chances you have…It’s proven that if you can get on a medication early, that you’re gonna do a lot better over the long run.”
Clay Walker launched a charitable foundation in 2003, Band Against MS (BAMS), which is committed to providing educational information for those living with Multiple Sclerosis, funding programs researching a cure for Multiple Sclerosis, and funding programs helping those living with the disease.
To learn more, visit https://www.bandagainstms.com/