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Morning Sun
  • PATRICK'S PEOPLE: Bike the U.S. for M.S. passed through on Wednesday

  • Some have family members or friends with multiple sclerosis, others don’t, but all the Bike the US for MS riders are pedaling their way across the country to battle the progressive neurological disease.

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  • Some have family members or friends with multiple sclerosis, others don’t, but all the Bike the US for MS riders are pedaling their way across the country to battle the progressive neurological disease.
    A group of 20 riders spend Wednesday night at Pittsburg Memorial Auditorium, with local MS volunteers and Heartland Border Walk Foundation members providing their accommodations and meals.
    This group, on the TransAm Route, started riding June 1 in Yorktown, Pa., and is scheduled to finish their trip on Aug. 1 in San Francisco. That’s a ride of 3,784 miles. There is a second group following the Northern Tier Route that is going from Bar Harbor, Maine, to Seattle, Wash.
    “We have to raise $1 for every mile we ride, and I was able to raise over $6,500 for the organization,” said Laura Olexa, RN, Cincinnati, Ohio, who is making her first nation-wide bike ride.
    It’s not the first time Bike the US for MS riders have stopped here.
    “Pittsburg is one of the highlights of our trip,” said Cassie Wertz, program manager of Bike the US for MS.
    Two of the reasons for that are Robin Creemer, Joplin, and Gina Peak, Scammon.
    Creemer, who was diagnosed with MS at the age of 21, has been battling the disease for 40 years. She always comes over to talk with the riders and crochets lace angels that she gives to them.
    Peak was diagnosed with MS in 2004 and has been a very active volunteer in area MS fundraisers, including bike rides and the Heartland Border Walk for MS. She was also one of the planners for Shake and Move for MS, a zumbathon and fun walk presented in March in Pittsburg by the Heartland Border Walk Foundation.
    “When you meet inspirational people like Robin and Gina, you know why you’re riding,” Wertz said.
    It was hearing Creemer that helped draw James Whateley to the ride. A resident of England, he lives about an hour southwest of  London, but made a bike ride across the United States last summer.
    “I wasn’t with the MS group last year,” he said. “A teacher at my school who died at 26 from testicular cancer, and that was why I rode. I met the MS group my first day out, and rode with them to Colorado, then left and went on a slightly different route, ending up in Oregon.”
    Though he’d had no major personal links with MS last year, Whateley decided he wanted to come back this summer and ride for Creemer and others who are fighting MS. Now he’s a route leader, and has the crocheted angel Creemer gave him in his van.
    “We have two vans, and the lead vehicle scouts out the day’s route every morning,” he said. “The other van puts out water and food along the route, and we check on the riders throughout the day.”
    Page 2 of 3 - Whateley said the early part of the trip was probably the hardest, in part because the riders weren’t in such good condition then.
    “We had a couple of cold, wet days in the Appalachians in our first days in Virginia,” he said.
    Also, Whateley said, he believes the Appalachians are a harder climb that then Colorado Rockies.
    “The biggest climb is on Day 4 of the trip, and it’s a lot harder work because the riders aren’t that fit yet,” he said. “The Appalachians have steep climbs. The Rockies have longer climbs, but they’re more gradual.”
    Riders may go anywhere from 45 to 95 miles a day, depending on road conditions, weather, etc., then spend their nights in a variety of locations.
    “We’ve slept in churches, schools, people’s backyards,” Olexa said. “It’s important to get a good sleep because an 80-mile day is a lot harder on limited sleep.”
    Kevin Marshall, North New Jersey, is also making his first trip, and quit his job to do it.
    “I’ve always wanted to ride across the country, and the best way to do it is by bike,” he said. “A friend had done this ride in 2009. What better thing to do than to go across the country and help a good cause?”
    Riders occasionally do service projects along their journey. Marshall and Whateley especially enjoy this.
    “About every two weeks we have a rest day and do a service project,” Marshall said. “Recently we did yard work for a woman whose yard was pretty much of a mess.”
    “It’s lovely to see people’s faces when a group of 20 people show up to transform their yard,” Whateley added.
    Bike the US for MS provides support to MS clinics and facilities, and also funds home remodeling projects across the country.
    “We funded a bathroom remodeling project for a woman in Girard in conjunction with these riders,” Gina Peak said. “A portion of the funds raised from the Move and Shake for MS in Pittsburg were used to fund the project.”
    She said that the woman’s entire bathroom was gutted and redone to make it more accessible for her, with the work being done by a Kansas City area firm that specializes in handicap remodeling.
    “They replaced her shower with one that was handicap accessible, made a pocket door that swings so it would be easier for her to get in and out of the bathroom in her wheelchair and moved the vanity to an accessible height for her,” Peak said. “They also modified the toilet.”
    Wertz said that Bike the US for MS was started by Dan Fraser in 2007.
    “His mom has MS, and he wanted to do something to raise awareness and funds,” she said. “In 2007 it was just Dan and three of his good friends. This year we have 75 participants.”
    Page 3 of 3 - Anyone wishing additional information about Bike the US for MS, a non-profit organization, may visit the web site at www.biketheusforms.org.
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