ALL SECTIONS

Now Reading
Fighting MS With Grit and Two Wheels

ALL SECTIONS

ALL SECTIONS

— September 29, 2017

Fighting MS With Grit and Two Wheels

  • Living with MS (multiple sclerosis) is a challenge. Biking with MS is a triumph.
pocket

Armando DeJesus sports a winning attitude as he cycles to raise funds to combat the disease.

Living with MS (multiple sclerosis) is a challenge. Biking with MS is a triumph. Armando DeJesus, who was diagnosed with the long-term condition 25 years ago, cycles regularly in fundraisers for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS), covering up to 50 miles per ride. “I refuse to give up and let MS take over my life,” says Armando. “If people can live with cancer and survive, I think I can live and survive with MS.” For three years he rode a mobility scooter, but his determination enabled him to get back on his feet. “Now I walk with a small discrepancy in my gait, but I live, and I push through it,” he says. “Everyone says I’m a strong person, with a strong mind and a strong will. I try not to worry about the little things in life. I enjoy life to the fullest even if I can’t do everything I would like to do. Maybe I can’t go up a ladder the way I used to, but I can go up several steps. I try not to focus so much on the negative.” A sense of humor helps too. Armando works as supervisor, Packaging Area Component Warehouse & Sanitation, essentially the bustling packaging department at Nature’s Plus, which is among the sponsors of his MS rides. “I play many roles,” he says. Gary Schultz, manufacturing director, praises Armando’s upbeat spirit. “Armando makes it through every day with a big ‘Good morning’ and a smile,” Gary says. “You’d never know he was hurting. He loves to be busy and takes on new challenges with gusto. And he loves helping others. His heart’s in the right spot.” MS causes the immune system to attack the nerves, interfering with the transmission of nerve impulses. It may affect movement, organ function and sense perception, and often patients experience pain and depression. Maggie Murphy, associate with the NMSS Walk MS & Bike MS initiatives, says the organization raises money to fund research into the causes and treatment of the disease, and to help people affected by the disease through support groups, referrals to doctors and services, and advocacy. Bike MS, a branch of the fundraising division, has generated over $1 billion since its launch in 1980. “Our series is the premier fundraising cycling event in the nation,” said Murphy. “We hold 85 events nationwide, and we’ve had a total of over 90,000 participants.” When we spoke to Armando, he was looking forward to the New York City ride, one of the group’s largest events, offering 30-, 50- and 100-mile options. The shortest version follows the upper perimeter of Manhattan. The other two involve closing off the Holland Tunnel so riders can cycle through New Jersey and then return to the city. Last year, 4,000 riders raised $2.7 million. Riders pay a $25 entry fee, which covers administrative costs and promise to raise at least $200 each. “It could be as simple as asking family and friends for a donation,” said Murphy. “Social media has been a huge platform, and we have our own participant center. When people register, they get their personal page, where they can add pictures and their story. They share the link so followers can click and donate.” When people living with MS choose to ride in a fundraiser, they may not have shared their diagnosis with friends yet, so the page “is sometimes their big reveal,” Murphy said. Corporate sponsors can donate to the rides at different levels, earning perks such as an onsite table to promote their business. Some companies form teams of riders, and many have an owner, family member or employee living with MS. Armando is among the riders in this year’s New York City event who will wear a custom-made “I Ride with MS” jersey that also thanks to the corporate sponsor. Spectators can clearly see which riders are living with MS. Bike MS also holds traffic-free rides through state parks, such as the Massapequa Reserve on Long Island, a 13-mile route. Next year they expect to add a 25-mile option. Another popular event is the Muckfest, a 5K run over a muddy course, where runners enjoy getting nice and dirty without the stress of competition. “Blue bandanas show the people living with MS,” said Murphy. “It’s awesome to see they’re being active, putting themselves out there.” Participants in the bike rides and mud runs have to be at least 12 years old, but people of all ages can join fundraising walks, including families with babies and small children. Walk MS, which was inaugurated in 1988, is usually people’s introduction to NMSS, with no commitment to a fundraising amount. “But we do raise a lot of money through the walks,” said Murphy, “close to $800,000 this year. They’re usually three or four miles long, and there’s often a one-mile option. For the bike rides, which are a big investment to put on, we need motivated people who are really connected to the cause, so we have the fundraising requirement.” A month in advance of the October 22 New York City ride, Armando already had commitments of $680, including substantial support from his employer. His goal this year is to reach at least $750. He also rides for other causes, but the MS fundraisers are close to his heart. “He really enjoys the bike rides,” noted Schultz. “He puts on a headset and rides away.”

© Copyright 2020 Discover Life Magazine. All rights reserved.