People don’t have to be affected by Multiple Sclerosis (MS) to want to help people afflicted with the disease. MS affects people differently and sometimes blindsides those who merely wanted to help find a cure.
It is Traci Holstein’s second year of volunteering for the MS Ride from Miami to Key Largo, an annual event that raises funds for multiple sclerosis research. Holstein’s father has MS and her husband and a co-worker rode last year on a team they named Keys for MS.
Keys for MS is a group of cyclists in the Florida Keys who raise money for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and ride in its annual South Florida event. This year, the Keys-based team has grown to about 20 members including two from Key West.
Holstein of Islamorada participated in MS Walks wherever she lived, such as in Arizona and Pennsylvania. But, when she moved to the Keys, there was no organized walk for MS, so last year she worked the MS Ride as a volunteer. She says she cannot ride a bike because she has had two back surgeries.
MS is a debilitative nervous system disease. Symptoms may be mild such as numbness in the limbs or severe, such as paralysis or loss of vision. Twenty-five years ago, Holstein father’s MS manifested itself in one eye at the age of 40. He was a chemist for Pfizer and at first, the problem was not so noticeable. After 10 years, he had to walk with the aid of a cane, and then a walker. Currently, he is in a wheelchair, which he has had to use for three years. Her father took disability 15 years ago, and her mother who was a registered nurse, was able to take early retirement. Now, she cares for her husband full-time.
Miami Lakes resident Mindy McDaniel started training for the MS Breakaway to Key Largo Ride in 2007 and joined the popular Bacardi team in 2009. It is a large team which includes Keys riders (including me). Because riders are asked to raise funds for the South Florida chapter of MS, as much as $400 in 2014, McDaniel volunteered for the ride and helped in the bike parking zone when she was not able to meet the minimum goal. She became interested in the MS Ride after participating in the Team-in-Training program in which she competed in triathlons while fund raising for specific needs.
McDaniel “got sick,” as she called it, last year. Her first encounter with MS was when she woke up in Mesquite, Texas and could not walk a straight line. She said she felt like she had been drinking, when she had not. She had double vision, but that did not last long. It came and went — for a few years. She was a long-distance truck driver, and enjoyed seeing the country from her big rig. But she wondered if its fumes were making her sick. She asked for her truck to be checked to see if it was the cause of her problems.
When McDaniel experienced a loss of balance, she could not ride her bike. It took a few months for that to get better, she said. She enjoys taking her 90-pound Rottweiler for walks and on training runs, but sometimes the 47-year-old found she could not run a mile without tripping over her right foot. Still struggling to learn what was happening to her, the last straw came when she had bladder problems and had to go to the bathroom with increasing frequency and urgency. She went to a doctor, who said “I don’t want to scare you, but…” and the doctor confirmed Dec. 31, 2013, she had multiple sclerosis.
She has since lost her truck driving job; after 30 days, her medical leave ran out. Subsequently, she lost her health insurance. She had given up her leased car when she was a truck driver. So, she has no car. McDaniel consulted with the MS Foundation and it helped her get medications and information.
Despite her diagnosis – or maybe because of it – she is determined to do the MS Ride in early March. She plans to ride with a couple of friends and they expect to go at a leisurely pace. But she has her sight on a bigger goal. She wants to do an Ironman length triathlon in Maryland in the fall of 2016. “I want to try it before I can’t walk at all.” She is aware that there are braces for her leg, if she should need it. Sometimes, it buckles backward. And she said swimming can be good for those with MS. She said she had been “toying with the idea of doing the Ironman-length triathlon” since she completed a half-Ironman in 2009, and she does not feel she can wait to accomplish that goal much longer.
The Keys for MS team is hosted a Pajama Ride fundraiser Feb. 6, in Islamorada. Participants wore their best “jammies” and walked or rode the Old Road. For a $20 donation to the MS Society through the Keys for MS team, pajama-clad riders received a goody bag, discounts on food and beverage at the Moose Lodge after the ride and free dessert. Last October, the MS team held a similar fundraiser Oct 25 at the Islamorada Moose Lodge called the “Riding Dead.” Participants wore a costume and decorated their bike, stroller or wagon. They rode four miles on the Old Highway in a loop from the Moose, north to Chesapeake Resort, and back. With prizes for best costumes and best wheels, the event raised $700 for MS – equivalent to the amount two registered riders are asked to raise for the MS Ride from Miami to Key Largo this year.
The Bike MS Breakaway to Key Largo is set for March 7-8 beginning at the Florida International University Stadium. Riders can register as an individual, join a team or form their own new team. The finish Saturday is at Key Largo Resorts (mile marker 100 oceanside), and Sunday the riders return to Miami via Card Sound Road. Teams and individuals compete for prizes, but those afflicted with MS, who need the help the most, are the real winners.
For more information, visit email@example.com or call the Bike MS director at 954-676-3911.