COLUMBIA — Before 6:30 a.m. Sunday, Kent Ehrhardt prepped his bike and strapped on his cycling shoes for a second day of riding.
With his GU Energy Gel taped to the frame of his bike with blue masking tape, Ehrhardt, meteorologist for St. Louis television station KMOV, was one of nearly 3,000 people who rode either 40, 75 or 100 miles each day this weekend for the Bike MS: Express Scripts Gateway Getaway Ride.
The Central Missouri Event Center was the start and finish line for the challenge, which raised money to fund research, help people with multiple sclerosis and create awareness of the disease.
"It’s a lot of bicycling for an old man who has never done this before," said Ehrhardt, 55, who biked 100 miles Saturday.
"You get 60 or 80 miles into it and all you want to do is get in the pickup and go home," he said. "But that’s what an MS person feels like trying to get out of bed every day, so doing this twice a year isn't too much."
Multiple sclerosis is a disease that has different symptoms and effects in each person, from impaired movement to blindness to depleted cognitive function. The differences are so vast because MS reduces myelin, the protective coating around nerves, in any part of the body.
Ehrhardt had a friendly competition with Mark Reardon of St. Louis station KOMX, and together they raised more than $3,000. As of Thursday, the event raised nearly $1.4 million, but many people bring in money throughout the weekend and continue fundraising for a month after the event.
It is projected to bring in $2.3 million total, but Dan Friedman, director of marketing and communications for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society Gateway Area Chapter, said it will take weeks to find out the total amount the event brought in.
The Gateway Area chapter serves 6,800 people who have MS in a 90-county region. The proceeds from events such as Bike MS or Challenge Walk MS go to research and to people with multiple sclerosis.
"I think we’re getting to the point where we might see a cure in the not-so-distant future," Friedman said.
Tim Sauer, 41, who volunteers with the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, first noticed a problem when he had to belly crawl while caving with his sons' Boy Scout troop and couldn’t move. After nine months, 27 MRIs and a spinal tap, Sauer was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
"So much of MS is not visible," he said. "It’s the unseen that can be the most troublesome."
Sauer has handicap license plates on his car because of his multiple sclerosis. But because he looks "normal," he said, people don’t believe he needs them — he said he once had a man hit him with a cane because of it.
"We look normal," he said. "But it might have taken everything I have to get out of my car and into the store."
Months after being diagnosed, Sauer hadn't told his children he had MS. But during a family vacation, he couldn't get down a flight of stairs, and so he sat down with his kids to talk about the disease.
"The best thing is to talk about it," Sauer said. "It’s OK to be pissed and angry. I am. But do things to overcome it."
That’s part of the reason he volunteers with the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Friedman said the society hosts events like biking and walking to promote activity — something that MS often takes away.
Even if participants don't have the disease, the events are a way for them to stay active. Penny Campbell, 52, and Harriet Witherbee, 53, used to ride bikes together in junior high. Now they have renewed their love of cycling and ride together in Bike MS for people in their community who have MS.
"It's a disease that stops people from moving," Friedman said. "Whenever I see someone with an 'I Ride With MS' jersey cross the finish line, it's so inspiring."
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