Ellen Kallaher has been training — painfully — for the last four months for the upcoming Bike MS: PGA Tour Cycle to the Shore, the annual fundraiser now in its 30th year, in which cyclists of all ages and skill levels ride from Jacksonville to Daytona and back. It has been an arduous training regimen for Kallaher because 1) she is not too crazy about cycling, and 2) she has been living with multiple sclerosis (MS) for the last 20 years. When she talks about pain, it’s not the average ‘oh, I’m seriously out of shape’ pain. She is referring the debilitating neurological disease that is the very impetus for Bike MS.
“My motivation is about being able to complete the ride, sure, but it is more about being a part of finding a cure for this disease,” said Kallaher, a nurse and mother of three. “Each pedal push is about still being here and still making gains against MS.”
For those of you still in the dark about MS, you are not alone. Aside from knowing the acronym and that MS caused Richard Pryor’s ultimate deterioration, most of us (including me) would have to spellcheck sclerosis, a medical term defined as the abnormal hardening of tissue. According the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, “[MS] is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body.”
The kicker is that the medical field has yet to really pin down the cause of the disease, which as recently as 1993 was simply untreatable. Back then, doctors would say, “You have MS. Good-bye and good luck.” The efforts driven by the funds raised over the last few decades have facilitated the research and new medication for those afflicted with MS.
Corrina Madrid, Chapter President for the North Florida Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, said, “The Bike MS is the largest organized cycling series in the country. Each one of the 50 states has at least one Bike MS event every year and I know more than a few people [who have ridden] in each and every one of them.” Madrid says that the idea for the events started in 1980 is a tad unclear. “I am not quite sure how it started, but it’s now the standard of cycling events around the world and it’s set up as a ride, not a race, so folks of all abilities can take on the whole ride or any given portion of it,” she told Folio Weekly. There are seven route options over the two-day event.
Madrid proudly listed some key facts about the North Florida chapter. In 2015, the chapter:
- raised $478,720 for research projects;
- provided college scholarships to four students who either have MS themselves or have a parent with the disease;
- contributed $30,000 to the Chapter’s financial assistance service; and
- assisted 15 families on MS Service Day.
“Each rider pays an entry fee and additionally agrees to raise a minimum of $250. Most teams go way beyond that,” Madrid said. In 2015, the top fundraising teams (riders sign up and participate as teams to help maximize fundraising efforts) breached the $100K mark, according to Madrid. “The whole thing is a success because we have teams who care and a veteran volunteer committee that knows how to put on a great event here in North Florida.”
Among the most successful teams is team Big Banana, spearheaded by North Florida chapter board member Bruce Reid. Since 2010, team Big Banana has raised more than $600K to fight MS. Reid took an early retirement just so he could dedicate himself to riding in Bike MS events all around the nation. He has ridden at least 100 miles in each of the 50 states and he, alongside his wife, Linda Bushong-Reid, are now working on a second go-round and hoping to duplicate their earlier feat.
“At first, we rode in one, just to see if we could do it,” said Reid. “After I finished that first one, a couple of co-workers came up to me and thanked me for riding for them and their spouses and their families, any of whom had been living with MS. At that point, I realized this was much more than just riding a bike.”
Reid has done a least one Bike MS event every year for the last 16 years. “The feeling is like no other. When I started riding, there was barely one medical treatment on the market for MS. The money we have raised has directly gone to create medicinal options for folks with the disease. That is amazing and I won’t stop riding until we have a cure for MS — even then I probably won’t stop.”
In 2015, team Big Banana raised big bucks. Reid said that riders in Big Banana commit to raising at least $1,000 each, and that most surpass that easily. “Last year, our team of 35 raised $126K to fight MS.” And the team is a major force on MS Service Day, when they exhibit equal enthusiasm for washing windows and cleaning floors for families coping with the disease.
“You can talk to 10 more people on any of the teams who ride in Bike MS, and 10 more after that and you’ll get the same enthusiasm and passion for fighting MS,” Reid said. “I used to work out regularly prior to my efforts to fight MS and I look back and realize that the feeling was very shallow.”
Kallaher agrees. “I am riding for us all,” she said. Her training day begins well before the sun rises, as the heat severely affects her cognitive and physical abilities. “The world has changed for those of us dealing with MS. Twenty years ago, we were not sure if we would be able to walk as we aged with the disease. Today, I am here riding to eliminate it.”
Bike MS: PGA Tour Cycle to the Shore 2016 is held Oct. 22 & 23. Details at main.nationalmssociety.org.