Riding to fight MS

"It feels really, really good. I'm overwhelmed emotionally, I guess because I'm grateful," one rider said. "I'm proud that I'm out here doing this."
"It feels really, really good. I'm overwhelmed emotionally, I guess because I'm grateful," one rider said. "I'm proud that I'm out here doing this." (APRIL SAUL / Staff Photographer)
Posted: October 01, 2013

 CHERRY HILL On a perfect fall afternoon, the PATCO Woodcrest Station parking lot was full of gratitude.

Many of the people there were thankful for a huge effort to halt a disabling disease. Many were grateful they could make it to the finish line in Cherry Hill.

It was the end Sunday of the annual Bike MS: City to Shore Ride. The massive two-day event, expected to raise at least $5.6 million for the neurological disease, attracted 7,000 people on day one. They rode 75 to 100 miles from Cherry Hill to Ocean City. This year, a bridge closing added 1.7 miles to the trip.

Just 3,000 riders made the 75-mile return trip. They rolled in throughout the morning and afternoon, looking exhausted and triumphant and everything in between.

Along the chute to the finish line, family members and friends - some were the inspiration for the ride - and volunteers in orange T-shirts cheered, rang little cowbells, and yelled encouragement. "Great job," they'd shout. "Thanks for doing this."

Some riders had enough energy to lift an arm and say thanks. The grim faces of others said all they cared about was reaching the end, where they could dismount gingerly and begin the characteristic wide-stanced walk of people who have sat too long on a narrow seat.

Caran Muller of Philadelphia had a great time in the cheering section. She had found orange-rimmed sunglasses - orange is multiple sclerosis' pink - and an orange headband with orange feathers on top.

"I'm so grateful that people do this for my nephew and my brother," she said, "and I like being crazy."

Valerie Buck, 47, rode 180 miles - with MS. She was found to have the disease in 2004. Her team raised about $9,000. It includes her 74-year-old father, who rides with two artificial knees. He said his new bike made it so easy he wasn't even tired.

Buck, who grew up in the Philadelphia area but who lives in Salem, N.Y., gets vertigo, and numbness and pain on her right side. She says she has to be careful in the heat. She fears the day when she won't be able to participate in the ride, so she keeps doing it. Her eyes filled with tears as she thought about the scene at the finish line.

"It feels really, really good," she said. "I'm overwhelmed emotionally, I guess because I'm grateful. I'm proud that I'm out here doing this."

Andrew Stewart's family cheered him in. He had not been feeling well, and the race was hard this year. "I've been praying to come in for the last 40 miles now," he said. "It's wonderful to be back."

He thought about his aunt, who is bedridden with MS, as he rode. "When I think about all that she has to go through, it really puts it in perspective, that this is really nothing. I'm still healthy, just real tired," said Stewart, 49, who was riding for the Peddler's Shop Cycling Club in Deptford.

Betty Hollen of Pottstown sat in a chair beside the bikeway, her walker nearby, waiting to see her husband. Her MS was diagnosed eight years ago, and she has had to give up working as an engineer. She's 52.

She waited hours longer than she had to because she likes the sense that everyone is fighting an individual battle against MS. She wanted to thank the riders. "I feel gratitude that they're bothering to take the time, both riding and collecting funds," she said. "The five million is just overwhelming."


sburling@phillynews.com

215-854-4944

@StaceyABurling

www.inquirer.com/health_science

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