This past weekend I was one of more than 2,500 people from all over Illinois who met at NIU and rode for two days throughout the rolling hills of Northern Illinois (some people rode 150+ miles, including myself – a personal best!) to show support and raise money for multiple sclerosis (MS) research as part of the National MS Society’s (NMSS) annual Bike MS: Tour de Farms ride. For those of you who may not know what Bike MS is, it is one of the largest fundraisers for the NMSS, involving over 100 Bike MS rides that take place across the U.S. each year.
As you can imagine, even for seasoned cyclists, participating and training in a multi-day bike ride, can be quite a feat. For me, a person who in 2007 was diagnosed with MS, which results in range of unpredictable symptoms including fatigue, numbness, balance and vision issues, especially during exercise and hot weather – I have had some extra challenges to overcome.
Following my diagnosis with MS, I was determined to live a healthy lifestyle and not let MS hold me back. With this determination in mind, in 2012 a colleague, who happened to be a cycling enthusiast, entered to ride the Bike MS: Tour de Farms, encouraging me to join the team as well. So it was then that we formed our team, Petal Pushers (a pun on the horticulture company where we worked). In our first year, we had 27 riders on the team and raised over $25,000 toward MS research, making us one of the higher fundraisers for the Bike MS: Tour de Farms ride in 2012. As we entered this year’s Bike MS ride, team Petal Pushers set a goal – to double both our riders and fundraising. I can proudly say that we accomplished this in 2013, with over 60 riders raising over $50,000, which made us the second highest fundraisers in the state.
This year marked my first year in the “I Ride with MS” program, a partnership with the NMSS and Genzyme’s MS One to One program, which provided support and visibility for those living with MS participating in the ride. Through this first of its kind program, those cyclists living with MS, including myself, wore a special “I Ride with MS” jersey to provide visibility, and more strongly connect all cyclists within the ride, also serving as a reminder of why we all participated in Bike MS.
For me, being part of Bike MS is a way to feel that I am doing something positive to help further MS research – a way of fighting back to such an unpredictable disease. Unlike many other biking fundraisers, Bike MS is open to all skill levels, with several route options, as well as a variety of volunteer opportunities, to ensure anyone can get involved at some level.
The atmosphere created when thousands of people come together to ride and volunteer for a common cause is indescribable and truly inspiring. Everybody with MS faces different challenges, and seeing all those people supporting this ride, including those who live with MS, provides hope.
Above all, I want to recognize the NMSS for all the time and effort spent to coordinate this extraordinary event, as well as congratulate my fellow riders, especially recognizing those, who like me, rode with MS and pushed themselves to help further MS research. I encourage others to get involved with Bike MS, either volunteering or donating toward this wonderful cause. Please visit www.nationalmssociety.org to learn more about Bike MS and the I Ride with MS program.