DeKALB – Erin Bickus had just started working full time at the National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s Greater Illinois Chapter when she was diagnosed with the disease.
Bickus initially got involved with the group because of her mother’s multiple sclerosis diagnosis. Now the chapter’s team engagement manager, Bickus cheered on about 2,000 bicyclists who participated in this year’s Bike MS: Tour De Farms fundraiser.
“People are literally changing lives, and I am a prime example of it,” Bickus said. “I’ve run the Chicago Marathon, and I am signed up to run again in 2013. ... The only reason why I can do that is the money we raise for MS.”
Many participants in the two-day fundraiser were biking in honor of someone. For Rob Cleave, it was his brother-in-law. His nine-member team, Too Hot to Handlebar, raised about $5,000 this year.
“He’s doing well,” Cleave said of his brother-in-law. “Unless you knew, I don’t think you’d really be able to tell. ... I think a lot of it has to do with the drugs he’s taking, and a lot of it has to deal with this event. Hopefully some of the money we’ve put in here are going into the research to help push new drugs and allowing people continue to have their lives without suffering the effects of MS too harshly.”
Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease that attacks the neurons in the brain and the spinal cord. Symptoms vary person to person because each multiple sclerosis attack can have different effects and ramifications.
Bickus, for instance, said multiple sclerosis has given her blurry vision and fatigue, while others might be confined to wheelchairs as a result of the disease’s progression.
Participants can ride up to 200 miles over two days, with a route that starts at Northern Illinois University and spans the county.
To participate in the bike race, each rider must raise at least $300. Elle Ullum, the Bike MS director, said they’ve raised about $1.4 million this year so far, a 5 percent increase from last year.
“It wasn’t until 1988 that there was even a drug therapy on the market. Now we have 10,” Ullum said. “Three of those came within the last two years. So the fact that there are drug therapies out there, it’s moving quickly. ... The money goes a long way. We see it directly impacting people with MS.”