JOPLIN, Mo. —
Valerie Doerr, of Joplin, cycled 85 miles on Saturday for only one reason — to raise money for multiple sclerosis research.
And the ride itself, she said, gave her a renewed appreciation of the people who are forced to live with the disease.
“You kind of sympathize with what they go through because you can’t hardly get off that bicycle, you’re so sore and numb,” she said.
More than 750 cyclists biked Saturday from Clever to Joplin, a trip of about 85 miles, as part of Bike MS Ozark, an annual two-day bicycle ride that serves as a fundraiser for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society to find a cure for the disease. The society’s local chapter has set a fundraising goal of $413,000 this year, and all proceeds from the event stay in the Ozarks area, according to Ashley Mayer, development manager.
As part of the return trip to Clever this morning, cyclists will bike 10 miles through Joplin in memory of the victims of the May 22, 2011, tornado. The city of Joplin has provided each cyclist with a city flag, lapel pin and bracelet.
Doerr, who works at U.S. Bank in Joplin, became involved with the bike ride after she and her husband lost a friend to the disease. The friend, who had been in his 40s when he died, had been in the couple’s wedding party and left behind a wife and four children, she said.
“It’s just tough,” she said. “And because of our riding, we now know so many people with MS.”
Doerr said she and her husband, Steve, who is retired from the Joplin School District, have raised about $33,000 together for multiple sclerosis research since joining the annual bike ride nine years ago. She rode solo on Saturday and said her husband might bike part of the return today.
“I love the ride because usually I’m by myself, and it’s prayer time,” she said. “I pray for the people we ride for, the people who give us money and the people who have MS.”
Joshua Udermann, of Springfield, was a first-time participant in the bike ride. He said he joined the ride to train — he’s working toward a triathlon — and to benefit the organization behind the event.
“I think it’s for a really good cause, and they raise quite a bit of money toward finding a cure,” he said.
Sandy Davis, of Republic, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2008, after two separate falls that left her with a broken leg and a broken shoulder led her to see a neurologist. The diagnosis was “devastating,” initially leaving her with frustration, anger and a fear of the unknown, she said.
“It’s basically a grieving process because as the symptoms of my disease progress, I have to grieve the loss of things I can no longer do,” said Davis, who uses a wheelchair. “You either develop a really good sense of humor or you break down. I choose to have hope.”
Davis got involved with the national organization about four years ago and has volunteered with the annual bike ride since. The best part of volunteering is the feeling of being part of something that’s bigger than the individual, she said.
“When you are told that you have a potentially debilitating disease, it is so devastating (that) you feel hopeless, helpless and alone. I became very isolated,” she said. “When we came to our first bike ride, here we are watching 700 riders line up at the crack of dawn, and I can’t even describe what it felt like to see all those people who cared enough to give up their time and energy for people they don’t even know. It was amazing.”
Multiple sclerosis is a disease that attacks the central nervous system. Symptoms vary widely among patients and can be mild, such as numbness in the limbs, or severe, such as paralysis. Approximately 400,000 Americans currently live with the disease.