Approximately 70 cyclists have registered to participate next month in the fourth annual Bike MS, a signature fundraiser for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society Hawaii Division, and more are needed, said Candice Schwalbach, the division’s manager.
The event raises awareness for the incurable disease and funds, which will be used to support the more than 800 Hawaii families living with multiple sclerosis, she said.
The Hawaii Division funds research, furthers education, advocates for people with disabilities, provides referrals to health care providers, offers financial assistance and has support groups and other resources within the community. It also provides short-term medical equipment loans, Schwalbach said.
Multiple sclerosis is a chronic, often disabling disease that attacks the central nervous system, which is made up of the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves. Nationwide, there are approximately 400,000 people with multiple sclerosis, with 200 more people diagnosed every week. On the Big Island, at least 150 people are affected, and medication can cost up to $10,000 a month, Schwalbach said.
Symptoms may be mild, such as numbness in the limbs, or severe, such as paralysis or loss of vision. The progress, severity and specific symptoms are unpredictable and vary from one person to another, she said.
While the disease is not contagious or directly inherited, epidemiologists have found multiple sclerosis is more common in women than men — which is one reason why the Hawaii Division plans to provide more educational programs for women in the targeted age group. Most people are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, Schwalbach said.
“Education for any kind of disease is so empowering and brings so much more understanding,” she added.
Schwalbach said people generally don’t understand multiple sclerosis or confuse it with muscular dystrophy, which is why events like the one next month are so important to spread the work about the so-called invisible disease, who it affects and what resources are available.
“The cause is still unknown. There’s no cure,” she said. “However, new treatments can enhance the quality of life for people at all stages of multiple sclerosis and advances are giving new hope.”
During this year’s fundraiser, dubbed “Go Big or Go Home,” a sea of cyclists will ride Aug. 4 from Anaehoomalu Bay to North Kohala and back to Waikoloa, where they later attended an appreciation dinner and listened to speakers’ stories about multiple sclerosis. On Aug. 5, they traveled from Anaehoomalu Bay to Kailua-Kona and back, as well as were treated to a victory celebration.
Their ride will cover 115 miles. The event offers rest stops about 7 to 10 miles with goodies and meals from various sponsors, including the Hilton Waikoloa Village, go! Airlines, Mahalo Deep Water, Starbucks, and Clif Bar. Volunteers are needed to join community groups, such as local Lions Clubs and the Waikoloa Canoe Club, in providing encouragement and assistance along the route. Bike Works and Cycle Station will do bike checks prior to the event, as well as will provide a mechanic should mishaps arise during the journey, Schwalbach said.
To participate, each cyclist must raise at least $300 and register by Aug. 3 via calling 532-0806 or visiting MSHawaii.org. Those interested in joining a team may contact Bike Works or Cycle Station. There are prizes for top individual and team fundraisers, Schwalbach said.
“For cyclists and all those seeking a personal challenge and a world free of multiple sclerosis, Bike MS is the premier fundraising cycling series in the nation,” she said. “With a choice of more than 100 extraordinary rides, the Bike MS experience is the ride of your life.”