This year, participants raised $1.75 million.
The long steep hill that leads to the finish line of the MS 150 Bike Tour is nothing to smile at, but that’s exactly what cyclists did as they broke the hill’s crest Saturday. Participants trekked 75 miles of Missouri countryside to raise money for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Another 75-mile journey awaits the cyclists today.
Greeting the cyclists at the top of the hill were hordes of family members, friends and volunteers. A group of children held their hands out, high-fiving cyclists as their weary legs eased off the pedals. Volunteers handed out small whistles for people to welcome the cyclists coming into the Midway Expo Center, west of Columbia near Interstate 70.
It didn’t matter if the cyclist was young or old, flying up the hill like Lance Armstrong or slowly marching a bike up the incline. All cyclists were equal because they were essentially out there for the same reason: the joy of biking.
“The camaraderie is incredible,” LeAnne Lis said.
Lis was biking in the tour for the second time. She had been inspired after volunteering one year and witnessing the enthusiasm surrounding the event.
Word seems to be spreading. More than 2,600 cyclists participated Saturday, compared with last year’s 2,200.
“We get a wide variety of riders,” said Pat Knoerle-Jordan, president of the Gateway Area Chapter in St. Louis for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. “Everything from the weekend warrior who hasn’t trained much to those folks who have trained religiously all summer.”
Cyclists raised more than $1.75 million this year and raised $1.4 million last year.
Cyclists all had their own reasons for participating Saturday, but many of them were close to someone afflicted with the disease.
Multiple sclerosis affects the central nervous system. It is usually found in adults between the ages of 20 and 50.
“My wife was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis three years ago, and I’ve seen what she’s gone through,” first-time cyclistPhil Bruno said.
He began training in June and since then has been riding six days a week . He said he’s lost 40 pounds during that time.
Bruno was also impressed by the friendliness and support of the other cyclists and volunteers.
“This is just phenomenal,” he said. “Everybody’s so nice.”
Larry Russell, 53, has biked the MS 150 nine times during his 27 years of cycling tours.
“I started because I thought it was a good ride,” he said. “Since then I’ve met people suffering from the disease, and I support the cause a whole lot more.”
Andrew Delucia, 11, had a different reason for biking.
“My dad made me,” Andrew said. “He’s done it before, and he liked it. He said we need the exercise.”
Andrew was riding with five other members of his family.
His father, Joe Delucia, 47, has cycled all his life and is now beginning to get his family interested.
“The kids are old enough now,” he said. “It’s a good family thing to do.”
Every mile of the route felt like a family gathering. A third of the way into the course at the second rest stop, a cyclist raised his hands like a conductor and led a group of cyclists in a united “Thank you” for the volunteers passing out food and drinks.
“This is just awesome,” volunteer Karen Hoefer said. “There’s a ton of bikers, and they’re all so grateful. We thank them for riding. They thank us for being here.”
A few minutes before noon, the first cyclist of the day, Chris Nitzsche, crossed the finish line to a loud welcome.
“It was awesome,” Nitzsche said. “Couldn’t have asked for better weather. It’s a very well-organized event.”
Nitzsche had an average speed of 21.3 mph for the 75 miles, reaching his goal of 20 mph.
He doesn’t plan on riding so fast for Sunday’s ride.
“I’m going to spin easy and ride with my friends,” he said. “Provided I can get out of bed.”
As the afternoon moved on, more cyclists climbed up the last hill and a line formed in front of the massage tables.