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Riding for a Cure, Riding for Hope

August 30, 2012

In two weeks I’ll be participating in my 3rd Bike MS ride. Last September I participated in the 25th Annual Multiple Sclerosis ride at Callaway and completed my first metric century on the bike (60 miles). In May I completed my first real century (100 miles). This year I plan to ride 100 miles on Saturday and 30 on Sunday for a total of 130 miles. I have set a goal to raise $3,000 to help fund research for finding a cause and cure, and programs to help support those living with MS. I do it because I love to ride. I do it because my team, Witness through Fitness participates and has a lot of fun. And I do it because I want to help end MS. Throughout my life I have met many people who are affected by multiple sclerosis. I have seen how their lives have been impacted, and how their influence has affected and inspired me to be grateful for my own good health and work so that others may have more healthy days. Here are some of their stories.

My first experience with MS was with my sixth grade science teacher, Mrs. Hall. Science was not my best subject, nor my favorite, but she managed to make it bearable and at times even fun. She was a warm and loving teacher that cared for her students deeply and made the subjects she was teaching come alive. I don’t remember exactly when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, but I do remember watching her health decline that year. She started off vibrant and alive and healthy as anyone else. But throughout the year walking became more difficult. A wheelchair appeared in our classroom. She didn’t use it all the time at first. I remember days we were walking down the hall to lunch or another class, and she was walking behind her wheelchair, pushing it. Using it for support. Then came the days when she could no longer walk behind it, and was bound to sitting in it. As foolish middle schoolers we didn’t quite get the impact. We thought it was fun to take turns pushing her around the halls and begged for a chance to play in the chair while she sat behind her desk. Her body may have slowed, but her compassion for teaching and her love for us as students never faltered.

It wasn’t until the following summer one of my friends told me she had seen the obituary. Apparently our beloved teacher’s disease had progressed and she learned she wouldn’t be able to teach anymore. That news was so unbearable that she took her own life. My mother assured me that it wasn’t really Mrs. Hall that had taken her life. Her mind had been clouded by so many medications and treatments trying to fight the disease, she was no longer judging rationally when she came to that decision. Regardless, MS took away her ability to do what she loved most, and the world was robbed of a loving and talented teacher from that time on.

She was the first person diagnosed with MS to have an impact on my life, but certainly not the last. Years later I began to meet more and more people and hear of friends and loved ones who were affected by this disease. My mom’s best friend Gwen has been living with MS for several years. A talented painter and artist, her first troubling symptoms appeared as impaired vision. Throughout the years she has experimented with various medications to battle her symptoms, some drugs causing issues with her legs. Yet she perseveres on with a sweet demeanor and giving attitude, and today you would hardly know she lives with MS.

My grandfather Jim grew up in a large family with seven siblings, yet two of them fell prey to the disease. His oldest sister Allene and his brother Weyman both died from MS. Weyman’s two children inherited his disease. Daughter Lane has been bedridden for the last 12 years. Son Weyman Jr. has been able to remain active and has put forth great effort to stand up for others. A lawyer and UGA law professor, Weyman Jr. has served as the former US President of the MS Society, and as the former President of International MS Society. My grandfather has served on the Georgia Board of Directors and has remained a very generous donor to helping find a cure for MS.

Perhaps the most inspiring story to date is that of a fellow clergywoman, Joan. We were ordained together in 2010 and traveled together the following February to the Holy Land. It was the trip of a lifetime and one I will never forget. I will also never forget how much walking was involved. Traveling with Joan revealed to me what a gift it is to be able to walk, and gave me a reminder to give thanks always for my good health.

Diagnosed with MS in 2008, Joan has been battling various symptoms over the years, ranging from, in her words, “nuisance to debilitating.” Her most notable symptom on this trip was a drop foot on both sides with increased difficulty walking and greater fatigue as the day rolled on. There were times when she could not get off the bus to join us in all of our walking tours, but she was incredibly strong and wanted to participate in as much as possible. Never complaining and having one of the best attitudes I have encountered, she went at her own pace and blessed us all with her presence on that trip. Her husband was inspiring as he supported her both physically with his strong arms and emotionally with his kind words and unending patience. It was a gift to see the two of them together and the love that they shared. Even more inspiring was hearing of her experience at the pools of Bethesda.

We had a group devotional at the ruins of the pools, known in scripture to be a place where healing took place and Jesus made a paralyzed man walk again. Bishop Watson shared with us the scripture from John 5:1-9 and reminded us that we often have the opportunity as pastor to offer healing. Yet it is important to remember the difference between healing and curing. God heals in many ways, not only or always physically, but also mentally, emotionally and spiritually. He blessed some oil and offered the mark of the cross on our foreheads as we came together to seek healing in our lives or on behalf of another person.

Bishop Watson blessing the oil used at our healing service near the Pools of Bethesda.

It was a surprisingly emotional service for each of us, but I think especially for Joan. After that trip, even during a particularly difficult relapse, she told me, “The best healing occurred at the Pool of Bethesda, when I was healed from being a VICTIM of the disease. I definitely am no longer a victim and while I may still have a chronic disease, it does not define who I am.”

To find such peace of mind and spirit, to remain so faithful even in the midst of pain and frustration, and to share the love of God with her fellow clergy, her congregation and everyone she meets with such grace has made Joan a strong woman of God in my eyes, and someone I look up to with the greatest of respect and admiration. It is not only to prevent stories of MS taking someone’s life, like Mrs. Hall, Allene and Weyman that inspire me to ride. It is also to share the good news of people like Weyman Jr. and Jim who fight for others to have a stronger life. And it is in gratitude and inspiration of people like Joan, who allow the light of Christ to shine even in the midst of darkness, and who continue to share the hope.

On September 15th-16th I will ride so that others with MS can have better days. Won’t you join me in offering hope?

Check out my Bike MS Page here: http://main.nationalmssociety.org/site/TR/Bike/GAABikeEvents?px=10047246&pg=personal&fr_id=18479

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