By SARA ARTHURS
Eric Duling entered the Multiple Sclerosis Society’s Bike to the Bay ride 25 years ago simply because he enjoys bicycling. He has not missed a year since, and has become more passionate about his role in raising money for multiple sclerosis.
Duling, of Findlay, will do the ride again this weekend, marking not just his 25th year of participation but also the 25th anniversary of the event.
The ride starts Saturday and finishes Sunday at Perrysburg High School in Perrysburg. Riders will travel back roads to Port Clinton, and, for those biking both days, have the opportunity to go to Put-in-Bay.
The event was previously called the MS 150 Bike to the Bay and is now known as the Reeves Northrup Memorial Bike to the Bay Ride.
Nationally, more than 110,000 cyclists participate each year in Bike MS, a series of rides across the country to raise money for the National MS Society. Bike to the Bay, a fundraiser for the Ohio Buckeye Chapter of the National MS Society, is one of three rides planned in Ohio this summer.
For Duling, the ride started just as a way to challenge himself with a long bike ride. He didn’t know anyone affected by MS at the time. He has since gotten to know many people living with the disease, including some of his students at Owens Community College, from which he recently retired as a professor.
He recently met a young woman who has MS and has lost feeling and muscle tone in one leg but plans to complete the Bike to the Bay herself, pedaling with one leg.
Multiple sclerosis, or MS, is an unpredictable, often disabling disease. It affects more than 400,000 people in the United States.
Symptoms range from numbness and tingling to blindness and paralysis. The advancement, severity and specific symptoms of MS in any one person cannot be predicted. Most people are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, with more than twice as many women as men being diagnosed.
Multiple sclerosis is the most common neurological disease leading to disability in young adults. There is no known cause or cure but there are medications that can slow the progression of the disease and lessen the severity of symptoms.
Bike to the Bay participants are required to raise a minimum of $300. In the past, Duling would encourage colleagues to make pledges. Later he would offer to wash and wax others’ cars in exchange for donations. And every April Duling, a singer and guitar player, performs at Coffee Amici and gives the show’s proceeds to the National MS Society.
How much he raises varies from year to year. Last year was the most he’d ever raised, about $1,700. This year he estimates he has raised about $1,200.
The Bike to the Bay offers different routes for riders of different levels, with the choice of riding 35, 50, 75 or 100 miles. Duling always rides 75 miles each way, or 150 miles round-trip.
Guyla Wehman at the National MS Society, Ohio Buckeye Chapter, said stories like Duling’s are common. She has heard from many riders who start out riding in Bike to the Bay as a personal challenge, but later meet someone or find they know someone with MS.
“They end up, usually, with a personal connection,” she said.
Wehman said the society anticipates more than 1,000 riders in Bike to the Bay this year. The goal is to raise $446,000 at Bike to the Bay and $2 million between the three rides in Ohio.
The Ohio Buckeye Chapter of the National MS Society covers 64 Ohio counties, including Hancock, Hardin, Henry, Putnam, Seneca, Wood and Wyandot counties. Wehman said about 14,000 people are affected by MS in the 64 counties.
The chapter raises money for research and offers assistance with medical equipment, home and vehicle modifications, short-term home and respite care, transportation assistance and emergency assistance funds. Also offered are self-help groups and phone and face-to-face counseling, particularly for the newly diagnosed. The chapter also advocates to promote changes in government policy, educates health care providers and offers a free lending library of books and videos on subjects related to MS.
The National Multiple Sclerosis Society is investing more than $8.5 million over a three-year period in Ohio institutions for 23 MS-related research projects, one of the highest investments nationwide.
Bike to the Bay, in addition to being for a good cause, is an enjoyable physical challenge with a scenic route, Duling said.
He said the event is also well organized with “an army of volunteers” and snacks and beverages provided at stops along the way. The event concludes with “the most incredible” chicken dinner, he said.
There are bike mechanics available as well as transportation for people whose bikes may have broken down. Duling said if there is a problem or someone gets a flat tire and needs a lift there are helpers stationed at several places along the course.
The overnight event includes camping, although some bicyclists get a hotel room. Duling said most years the weather has been “very cooperative.”
He sees some of the same riders at the Bike to the Bay year after year.
“People come from all over to do this ride,” he said.
Duling, 56, has enjoyed bicycling since childhood. He used to be a runner, as well, but now has arthritis in one knee. Running is hard on his knee but bicycling does not put the same strain on the joints.
“I want to keep bicycling for as long as I can,” he said.
Duling is an advocate for bicycling and said he believes everyone should try it.
“It is so good for you and it is so fun,” he said.
In addition to being good exercise, “you get to see a lot of things” bicycling that you wouldn’t see driving, he said. Recently he saw a bald eagle.
Duling said drivers in cars do not always respect bicyclists and he’d like to see more attention paid to safety. He mostly bicycles on country roads rather than in town because bicycling in town means dealing with unsafe drivers.
The Ohio Buckeye Chapter of the National MS Society has three offices, the nearest of which is in Maumee. There are also offices in the Cleveland and Columbus areas.
Wehman said the society is “here to offer help” to people living with MS. Anyone with questions or who needs help can call the society at 800-344-4867 or visit its website at www.MSohiobuckeye.org. For more information about riding or volunteering at Bike MS, visit MSohiobike.org or call 216-503-4183.
Interested cyclists may still register the Bike to the Bay Friday at Perrysburg High School.
Arthurs: 419-427-8494 Send an E-mail to Sara Arthurs
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