Riding M.V., battling MS

Riding M.V., battling MS

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There’s a good chance that you or someone you know has been affected by Multiple Sclerosis, the paralyzing disease with which 200 people are diagnosed in the U.S. each week. Now you have a chance to do something about it. On Saturday, May 1, the National MS Society, in collaboration with the M.V. Boys and Girls Club, will host Ride the Vineyard, an Island-wide bike ride to raise money for research and support for people affected by MS, with the shared goal of a world free of MS. The ride is one of more than 100 Bike MS events across the country this year and the first of the year in New England.

Ride the Vineyard is split into three separate sections — 25K, 50K, and 100K — allowing riders of all levels to take part. Cyclists can participate either individually or as part of a team. All rides begin and end at the regional high school, with participants treated to a cookout following the ride. The event is in its 18th year on the Island, and last May over 650 riders turned out, with the Vineyard setting drawing people from across the country. “Many of the riders come from the Boston area,” says Liz Strawn of the National MS Society, “but the Island is such a great destination that it really attracts people from all over.”

Ms. Strawn says that she expects a similar turnout this year, but that she hopes the local participation will increase. Seasonal Chilmark resident Bob Green, the event’s Island coordinator, appreciates the support from the community in publicizing the event, and he hopes that will translate into more local riders this year. While many experienced riders will take part in this year’s ride, there is also plenty of room for casual riders, those who just want to support the cause and enjoy a nice bike ride in a beautiful place. “This ride is really for everyone, and we are hoping that the shorter rides will attract more local riders,” Mr. Green says.

Along with enjoying the scenic beauty of the Island, riders commit to raising at least $250 from friends, family, or colleagues who sponsor them in the ride. The National MS Society will help people with fund-raising if necessary. Last year, Ride the Vineyard was a great success, raising over $500,000 for M.S. research and the Boys and Girls Club here on the Island.

Although the event attracts some very serious riders, it is not a competitive ride and safety is the number one priority. “The safety of our riders is our number one concern,” says Ms. Strawn, “We want to give people the experience of a lifetime and make sure they come back.” Rest stops will be set up throughout the routes and over 100 volunteers, including medical staff, will be on hand.

Bike MS which hosts a series of rides across the country, was founded in 1980 in Minnesota. Since then, it has become increasingly popular, with roughly 100,000 riders taking part each year, nationwide. More than $77 million has been raised to date. “Bike MS has really taken off and become a national phenomenon, and it’s something that we really take pride in here at the National MS Society,” Ms. Strawn says.

It’s not often that an event as national as Bike MS comes to the Island, so it’s a great chance to support our community while being part of something much bigger at the same time. Tony Omer of West Tisbury, a passionate rider who rode in last year’s event, says, “it’s a very well-run event, well organized, a lot of fun, and above all a great way to see the Island for both Islanders and non-Islanders. It’s easy to forget what a special place we live in, but a bike ride can be a great reminder.”

The weekend will kick off Friday night with a Welcome to the Island Party at the Mediterranean Restaurant in Oak Bluffs. The evening will feature live entertainment and give riders a chance to get to know each other before they take to the Island roads. People interested in registering for Ride the Vineyard should visit www.bikemscne.org or contact Bob Green at 508-645-2200 for more information.

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