On an early and damp Fort Collins morning last June I couldn't help notice my butt was feeling sore - evidence that for this MS bike ride I hadn't trained as diligently as I did in years past.
This was heading back from Fort Collins to Westminster on the second 75-mile bicycling trek, when someone from the pack in which I was riding screamed, "Oh yeah, one mile! Only seventy four more to go!" It's sort of the mantra, train hard and you're a hardass - good. If you're a training slacker, you're a soreass, I guess. No biggie, it would either get better or get worse but still be a great ride nonetheless.
None among the 3,500 riders in the Colorado MS Bike Ride event ever think to themselves, "Why am I doing this, do I really need to be doing this?" For that matter, neither do any of the hundreds of volunteers who are up just as early, probably earlier, performing any number of duties that are very necessary to organize such a large event: serving riders breakfast and lunch; manning the support stops every 10-miles along the route; serving badly needed beverages ensuring the riders don't suffer a heat-related illness; sweeping the course to ensure cyclists don't run across debris and harm; offering encouragement and support - 74 miles on downward, days 1 and 2, start to finish, rain or shine under the exact same conditions the riders endure.
You take in a good long look around, at more than just the scenery along Carter Lake and Horsetooth Reservoir and you spot them. The volunteers and the well-wishers yelling encouragement, holding out drinks for passing riders, jangling those cowbells as you fly past - or you don't.
There are times where "flying" isn't even within your imagination. Actually, most of those times these volunteers have pre-scouted those difficult, steep climbs, anticipated the punishment and as you struggle, moving so slowly your bike is barely upright - the blast of those cowbells at just the right moment makes you surge ahead.
Then you reach some level ground, maybe a downhill if you're fortunate and you realize the young girl waving that bell was doing so from a wheelchair. Actually, there are too many well-wishers and volunteers for this event incapacitated to the point that they'd only be too happy to take your punishment - if they could again pedal a bicycle.
Colorado is among the states with the highest prevalence of Multiple Sclerosis, some 9,500 residents are afflicted by this disease of the central nervous system. Some of those people were riding a bike last year before they met the devastating diagnosis that jolted them and their families.
I don't just see the impact of this one weekend a year on a two-day bike ride sponsored by the Colorado chapter of the National MS Society, which was founded in 1959. Working as a pharmacist at the University of Colorado Hospital, I recently rounded on neurology with Michael Faithe, our neurology pharmacy specialist and another MS cyclist with several years of participation, and Dr. Augusto Miravalle.
It didn't take long to recognize Miravalle's specialty, his passion, was treating patients with multiple sclerosis. We saw very few of the other neurology hallmarks - meningitis, seizure disorders, and intractable headaches.
What I saw in 6 of the first 9 patients we tended to was MS. They were in varying degrees of severity, but no matter, it was absolutely frustrating. There were mommies whose mothering was disrupted, students whose schooling was disrupted; a common thread to me was how everything was instantly turned upside-down - or has been upside-down for some time now.
The younger ones, the students, often had the company of distraught parents and siblings in their rooms. A best case scenario might have been a sudden setback, maybe something related to medications that Drs. Michael and Augusto could tweak, could adjust, and maybe they were looking at "only" a two or three-day trip to the hospital. As we discussed the day's cases, unfortunately most were just not that lucky.
And so this is why 3,500 bicyclists never question why they are taking a weekend to ride from Westminster to Fort Collins and then back the next day.
It's the same for all cyclists doing MS bike events across the nation. They'll also raise a minimum of $400.00 per rider for the privilege of participating in the event, many riders raising thousands of dollars.
Michael and I ride on Team Hyatt Stayfit, which raised over $100,000 for the 2009 Colorado MS Cycling Event. Overall, the 2009 event raised over $1 million towards fighting, eradicating MS.
This year we'd like to do more, which is what's needed to fight the good fight. Not everyone with MS is a volunteer with the event. You find several riders among you have the diagnosis, and maybe have had it for years.
In the first Denver MS event I rode I had a friend's wife tell me if he overheated to immediately douse him with cold water if he hit the ground - a strange request from a fellow healthcare practitioner, I thought. Last year, I ran into him at the hospital and he came clean, told me he'd been diagnosed with MS since coming back from serving in Iraq in the 1980's.
His wife had simply been protecting his privacy, his dignity until he was ready to tell me. I'd found it interesting because you could never know. You might not know that the reason your officemate has no pictures of her sudden vacation is because she spent several days in the hospital due to shortness of breath and paralysis of her diaphragm rather than really romping on some beach. But the point is there are more therapies than ever before, and several more in the pipeline of study to practice. With them there is hope.
So it might be a little late at this point to join us riding for the 2010 Colorado MS Cycling event. But you could still volunteer in any number of capacities; call the Denver Chapter, or hit the web page and contact the captain of any of the event's cycling teams.
Or, you could donate to the society or any rider among any of the teams. There's no denying a main objective of the event is to raise money for research, for medications, for overall support. Because someday this event could be supporting you or me, and you need to give hope to those in your very own community some of whom - at the moment, can do little to help themselves.
Bring your cowbells.
Gerry Barber is a pharmacy specialist for the Pharmacy & Therapeutics Committee at the University of Colorado Hospital in Aurora. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.