Kevin McCarthy on Sanity, Biking and a Good Cause
I shaved my head on Sunday, leaving just a bare hint of stubble – a lesson I learned a few years ago. It was August of 2009, and the sun beating down on my bicycle helmet was making a nasty sweaty matted mess out of my hair. So, with an eye on comfort – and not really all that keen on the amount of gray hair I have accumulated over my 46 years – off goes my hair annually just before Pedal to the Point.
Pedal to the Point (Cedar Point in this case), is the fund raising endeavour of Bike MS. Raising money for research and relief for those battling Multiple Sclerosis: a chronic, unpredictable disease affecting more than 20,000 people living in Ohio. Currently there is no cure for MS. Advances in treating and understanding MS are made every year, and progress in research to find a cure is very encouraging.
I ride with 70 or 80 hearty souls loosely affiliated with Medical Mutual of Ohio, employees, family, friends and friends of friends. I was consulting for them when I was approached by Team MMO Captain and Cleveland bicycling enthusiast, Leah Sharkey, to sign up for P2P. We spent Tuesday evenings over the next few weeks making longer and longer practice rides. I have a dual suspension Coil Diamondback mountain bike (wrong for bike rides of this kind, but it'll do).
Each year Team MMO joins thousands of other cyclists, and rides 75 miles out to Sandusky (some of us adding the 25 miles of the Kent Clapp Extra Lap, in memory of MMO’s CEO, tragically killed in a plane crash). We sleep in tents, on the high school gym floor, in nearby motels – resting up for the 75 mile return trip Sunday. The sense of camaraderie and accomplishment is wonderful, and you need all the encouragement you can get along the way.
That first year, somewhere about 55 to 60 miles into day one – all I could think about was my aching legs, soybean and corn. We ride along the back roads, north then west, north then west – with “rest stops” approximately every 15 miles. Typically, either side of the road is adorned with soybeans – or corn in its early stages. Neither provides anything in the way of shade. Maybe it was mild sunstroke, but I was severely questioning my sanity at this point…
Some years ago, a good friend of mine was playing in a Scrabble® tournament with me (along with biking, another passion of mine). Before the day ended, she quietly got my attention and asked for my assistance. I was familiar with the Albany NY area, and she needed help. I did not realize until then that she was living with MS. The episode she was having at that moment affected her vision, and her motor skills – driving was out of the question.
A quick trip to a nearby hospital lasted all night. She spent the next few hours getting an infusion treatment. She travels with the necessary information and phone numbers needed to get the proper medical care. I kept her company, small talk as long as we could stay awake, and drove her back to the venue hotel the next day – none of the other 150 or so Scrabble® competitors were aware that anything had happened.
And that is the way she wants it. A wife, a mother of a busy teen-aged boy, a professor at a Northeastern University – she does not wish to be defined by the disease. It is a struggle for her some days, and well into the background on others. I was happy to be there for her when she needed it, and amazed at how well she handles such a debilitating disease.
So, for me – I consider the two days and 175 miles of biking a struggle of choice. I ride for her, and for many others I have met or learned about since I started participating in this event. This year, I am riding for Pam Nolan of Parma, OH ~ first diagnosed with MS over 32 years ago. This will be my fourth year, and I am proud to say that I have raised a combined $5,000+ in my first three years. I hope to push that amount over $6,000 with this year’s contributions.
I also make it a point to carry a list of names, given to me by friends, donors and relatives – of people who have MS in their lives. At those rest stops, when the sun (or 2011’s driving rain) makes me question “Why?” – I read through that list, knowing that the money I have raised has done some good for finding a cure – or provided assistance for those in need.
If you're interested in learning more about this year's Pedal to the Point or the National MS Society - Ohio Buckeye Chapter, I would encourage you to visit the Bike MS website.