DeKALB – For the vast majority of the year, the country roads of northern Illinois remain quiet, but this weekend, they’ll be more energized than ever.
More than 2,500 cyclists are expected to take to the streets in an effort to beat multiple sclerosis (MS) for the 31st annual Bike MS: Tour de Farms.
MS is a disease of the central nervous system in which inflammation prevents the normal flow of nerve impulses throughout the body. It often leads to a loss of body function.
Each cyclist must raise at least $300 to participate and the money earned benefits the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Greater Illinois Chapter. Last year, more than $1.6 million was raised, and event director Elle Ullum expects the earnings to increase yet again.
“In the last three years, we’ve taken a huge jump,” said Ullum, who has been a part of the event for nearly eight years. “We grew 18 percent last year, so the fundraising for this event has just taken off, and we hope to be at $2 million in two more years.”
Saturday’s event kicks off at the NIU Convocation Center, which serves as the start and finish line of the race. Race lengths vary from 15 to 125 miles for those 12 years and above, with the cyclists being taken through downtown DeKalb for the first time in the event’s history. Another new addition is the Kids Ride, which allows children under 12 to participate as well.
“We’re trying to get kids to be philanthropic at younger ages,” Ullum said. “The Kids Ride only has a registration fee, but we do supply the kids ahead of time with fundraising supplies and little change jars so they can start to realize how important [philanthropy] is and activate them while they’re younger.
“It’s also something so that families can come out. By adding the Kids Ride, it breaks up the day a little bit and gives them something to do, and it’s amazing to watch these little kids. It’s probably the best part of the ride.”
There will be no shortage of food and drink throughout the weekend. Lunch and dinner will be served Saturday, followed by breakfast and lunch on Sunday. There will also be rest stops every 10-15 miles which provide beverages, fruit, and other snacks.
On Friday, the staff worked nonstop through a thunderstorm, raising questions about the event’s ability to go on should there be inclement weather over the weekend. Ullum did not appear nervous, as there are several plans implemented to deal with the situation.
“We do have a meteorologist that we hire that’s on site with us,” Ullum said. “We’ve had him for the last three years and he’s been absolutely perfect to a T with the weather. Our weather looks great after this comes through right now. We do ride rain or shine, and then we have an event alert system and emergency backup plans if any storms were to come through.”
Even with a little rain, the staff with be outside, putting in work. John Boden, who has been diagnosed with MS for eight years, stands at the finish line every year and cheers on the participants. With the joy that he gets from the event, he says that nothing could stop him from being there.
“For me, it’s about giving back to all the people who participate in supporting the event to help find a cure for MS,” Boden said. “It makes me feel so good to tell people as a person with MS, thank you so much for participating. It’s indescribable.”