DeKALB – After living with multiple sclerosis for 33 years, Emily Greenberg considers herself lucky to be able to ride a bike 85 miles across the DeKalb County countryside.
“My memory is horrible sometimes, my walking is affected sometimes, but I'm a very fortunate that I'm very healthy,” the 48-year-old Chicago resident said. “I'm just a really positive person.”
Greenberg was one of 1,800 cyclists who flooded DeKalb County this weekend as part of the Bike MS: Tour de Farms fundraiser. Altogether, teams raised more than $1.5 million for Multiple Sclerosis research, programs and services throughout Illinois.
Participants rode anywhere from 15 to 125 miles Saturday and Sunday, starting and ending at Northern Illinois University's Convocation Center, to raise money for multiple sclerosis, an unpredictable and often debilitating disease of the central nervous system.
According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, the disease affects the brain and spinal cord, disrupting the flow of information within the brain and between the brain and the body. Scientists have yet to discover a cure for the disease.
Symptoms vary wildly among people with MS. While some, such as Greenberg, have attacks that consist of memory loss or trouble walking, the disease can also cause fatigue, blurred vision and numbness.
Greenberg's 23 member team, Tour de Friends, raised $25,000 for the two-day ride. In her 13th year on the Tour de Farms, Greenberg said she is proof the money being raised is helping to advance MS treatment.
Since 1998, Greenberg had to inject herself with medication. That changed last year when the Food and Drug Administration approved Tecfidera, a pill used to treat MS that Greenberg said was developed out of research funded by money raised at Bike MS.
“For the first time, I get to treat myself with a pill,” Greenberg said. “We have been able to raise money to find new treatments. Hopefully some day we'll have a cure.”
Riders faced heat, wind and a blast of rain, thunder and lightning during their ride to raise money. Among those to ride through the storm Saturday was Ryan Flanagan, 40, of Saint Charles, who pushed through about five miles of lightning and sideways rain.
“The rain was unlike anything I've ever ridden through,” he said Sunday morning while riders gradually started rolling.
Flanagan pedaled 100 miles Saturday and 50 miles Sunday to support people he knows with MS, a feat that seemed out of reach for Flanagan four years ago. While not MS related, Flanagan had a stroke when he was 36.
“I'm riding for the people who weren't as fortunate as I was,” said Flanagan, a member of the 16-member Chainring Gang team, which raised more than $15,000. “I try to raise as much money as I can so people who are less fortunate can ride a bike in the future.”
In addition to the varying symptoms, MS affects a wide age-range of people. Data from the MS Society shows most are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50.
Meghan Melone, 24, was diagnosed with MS when she was 14. The Elk Grove Village resident said she had a rough start coping with the disease, which she had very little knowledge of before being diagnosed.
“The only person I knew with MS was in a power chair,” said Melone, who is a development coordinator for Walk MS and special events.
In the past decade she's learned how to manage MS, balancing good days with bad days. Melone stays active and makes sure to take breaks when she's feeling fatigued. Beyond what she can do for herself, Melone has watched research and treatment advance in the last 10 years.
“It's an exciting time for research,” Melone said. “Getting diagnosed and going into a chair, that's not the case anymore.”