COLUMBIA — As the sun lit up the sky, silhouettes of helmets, spandex and spokes made their way across the horizon.
At 7 a.m. Saturday, the ribbon was cut to begin the 23rd annual “Express Scripts MS Bike Ride 2007,” and in the few hours that followed, more than 3,000 cyclists began the first day of the ride near the Midway Expo center.
Both corporate and personal teams registered for the MS 150 and raised money to help further research and aid for people with multiple sclerosis.
“Aid is anything that they may need help with financially or emotionally, like medical bills or support groups,” said Lori Hutchings, communications assistant for the MS Gateway Chapter.
Multiple sclerosis, or MS, is a “chronic, often disabling disease that attacks the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord),” according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Symptoms vary from mild symptoms, including numbness, tingling and problems with vision, to severe symptoms, including paralysis. About 400,000 Americans have MS, and most are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50.
Those diagnosed with multiple sclerosis are encouraged to register with the National MS Society. In Missouri and southern Illinois, about 5,300 people have registered with the group. But Hutchings said members of the society think many other people in the area with multiple sclerosis have not registered.
Hutchings thinks one of the most significant parts of awareness about the disease is simply knowing that it exists. Some people with MS experience only minor symptoms in the early stages of the disease, which has no known cure or cause.
She also thinks listening to your own body is an immense responsibility that should be taken seriously. People should always be checked out if they feel something strange is going on with their bodies.
“Subtle symptoms are here and there, so the sooner you catch it, the better,” Hutchings said.
Team of 100
Marsha Stanton, captain of the Monsanto Mavericks team, is a veteran of the ride. A founding member of the team, this year was Stanton’s sixth time riding in the tour. The Mavericks began with eight riders six years ago, but the team has since grown to include more than 100 participants, making it the largest team in the ride.
The Monsanto Mavericks have managed to raise more money than any other team in this year’s tour, according to the Gateway MS Society’s Web site, raising more than $70,000 as of Saturday morning. Organizers of the event hope to raise $2.3 million by Oct. 1. Donations may be made online at bikemos.nationalmssociety.org.
Team of One
With teams exceeding 100 people, or even 20, David Kirk is one man among many. A one-man team, Team Saluki, Kirk came across the event’s Web site in June and registered.
His wife, Tara, 29, was diagnosed with MS in February, and Kirk had been trying to figure out what he could do to support her. He jumped at the idea of the bike ride.
“I had no idea what I was going to do from there, but I knew that I was going to register and figure out the details later. And it worked out great,” he said
A novice on the course, Kirk hadn’t ridden a bike since age 12. Still riding his 1982 Nishiki bicycle, he enjoyed the idea that the serious bikers might not even know what type of bike he was on.
“There are all of these serious bikers out here, and I’m just some crazy dude with a 1982 bike,” David Kirk said.
He tried to get friends to join the more than 100-mile excursion, but the 4½-hour drive from their homes in Carbondale, Ill., was just too much. So the couple got creative and did a little extra fundraising for the ride.
After scheduling a successful first annual benefit concert in Illinois, the couple was able to meet a large chunk of their goal. Kirk also rode into the race on his bicycle. Beginning in St. Charles, he rode an extra 130 miles in an attempt to entice members onto his team, raise awareness and solicit donations before the actual ride.
A professional photographer, Tara Kirk took pictures throughout Saturday’s route as her husband cycled.
“I’m looking forward to finishing it — just to know that I can do it and to build on the team that I created this year and for future rides,” David Kirk said.