COLUMBIA — Steve Lovell has been cycling for multiple sclerosis awareness and research for 20 years.
“It’s a cause that’s real close to me, with family ties,” Lovell said.
His wife and daughter-in-law have MS. Before Lovell had even met his wife, he had started riding for MS at his friend's suggestion. Then, three years ago, Lovell's daughter-in-law was diagnosed with the disease as well.
The autoimmune disease affects the central nervous system. Common symptoms are dizziness, fatigue, numbness and, in many cases, paralysis. However, the way MS affects each person can vary significantly.
Lovell, from St. Louis, was just one cyclist of about 3,500 who participated in Bike MS: Express Scripts Gateway Getaway Ride, which took place Saturday and Sunday at the Boone County Fairgrounds. Lovell rode as part of the Monsanto Mavericks. The cyclists raised money for multiple sclerosis awareness and research.
The Gateway Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society covers 90 counties in eastern Missouri and southern Illinois, said Dan Friedman, director of communications for the Gateway Chapter. Gateway serves 6,300 people in that area with MS by offering care management, medical equipment, financial assistance, and education and wellness programs. The chapter has four offices, in St. Louis, Columbia, Cape Girardeau and Belleville, Ill.
NMSS hosts many events during the year to raise funds for MS, such as the Challenge Walk, the Mud Run and Bike MS.
The Challenge Walk, a three-day event held in St. Charles County, is a 50-mile walk for serious fundraisers. Last year, the event raised $500,000 with only 200 participants. The Mud Run is a 10-kilometer muddy obstacle course with mud pits, rope swings and cargo nets.
“It’s our newest event and probably most fun,” Friedman said.
Last year, Bike MS raised $2.4 million.
Team THF, the top fundraising team from 2009 with $140,123, started the ride off Saturday morning. It was followed by Team Express Scripts ($127,983), Team Kaldi’s Coffee ($107,820), Monsanto Mavericks ($77,386) and Cannonball Express ($64,907). The top-fundraising rookie team was Team Green Machine with $15,000.
David Rowlands of St. Louis rode for Team Kaldi’s Coffee for the first time this year. The team crossed the $100,000 fundraising mark for 2010, and its goal is $150,000. Teams have until Oct. 15 to raise money.
Rowlands biked the 100-mile route on Saturday, which took him six hours.
“It got a little grueling,” he said.
Physician Thy Huskey started volunteering at events for the Mid-America Chapter of NMSS about 15 years ago. She now serves on the board for the Gateway Chapter as part of the programs committee, evaluating and developing education and fitness programs for people affected with MS. The programs committee is responsible for planning events such as Bike MS.
“With every disease, awareness is important," Huskey said. "MS is invisible. People may look OK, but inside the body, they’re not OK."
Huskey was diagnosed with MS in 1991, just as she was finishing up her undergraduate degree. Beta serum, the first MS treatment drug, became available in 1991. As a medical student at Northwestern University, Huskey was able to get beta serum because the school was a site for MS research.
“Through volunteering, I’ve met a lot of good-hearted people,” Huskey said. “Lots of people are pulled into MS causes because most have ties to MS.”
But there are those volunteers, and riders, that have no ties to MS.
Volunteering for a cause
NMSS staff and various volunteers met to work out logistics, routes and rest stops as early as February, said Aaron Boone, a rest stop coordinator for the event.
Eight hundred volunteers helped out with the Bike MS event this year, Boone said. About 350 of those helped out at the various themed rest stops on the three routes, handing out food and drinks, and administering medical help if needed.
The other volunteers drove support and gear vans along the course. The vans, called SAGs, took supplies to the rest stops and transported riders who couldn’t finish the ride back to the fairgrounds. There were also many volunteers helping out at the fairgrounds.
Every year, volunteer Charlie Ries of St. Louis raises $15,000. Last year, he was the No. 3 fundraiser. Over the 25 years he has been helping out with Bike MS, he’s raised $265,000.
None of Ries' family members have MS, but he knows other people who have the disease. He volunteers to inspire others.
“I convince people it’s a cause that can be squelched,” he said.
Ries was at the starting line, encouraging cyclists with “hip hip, hooray!” before the race. The regulars recognized his annual cheer.
St. Louis’ Express Scripts was the executive sponsor for the event. Its cycling team has 200 members; the company also sponsored the first rest stop.
“We had about 50 volunteers help out this weekend,” Nancy Friedhoff of Express Scripts said.
On Saturday, Express Scripts' rest stop was carnival-themed, with a DJ and contests with prizes.
MS affects more than 400,000 people in the United States; 2.1 million people live with the disease worldwide, said Kristen Kuhn, interactive media administrator for NMSS. Doctors believe that MS is caused by genetic and environmental factors, although a certain cause is unknown.
Four MS drugs are approved in the U.S. by the Federal Drug Administration. All four are injections.
The FDA is to vote on the first oral MS drug on Sept. 21, Friedman said.