Local cyclists put pedal to metal for Bike MS

By Susanna P. Barton

Cyclists and bike stores across the city — including many in the historic neighborhoods — are gearing up for one of the biggest cycling events of the year: Bike MS: PGA Tour Cycle to the Shore. In addition to raising much needed awareness and funds for MS, the late September event also highlights some extraordinary local athletes who participate in the biking endeavor for the sheer thrill of the experience.

Thrill? Riding 150 miles? Just ask San Jose resident and attorney, Susan Haag. She’ll say there’s nothing like it — and lots of other people could do it too if they put their mind to it. Haag has participated in the event for the past 20 years.

“I’m old hat at this — my first ride was back in 1989 when I graduated from college, I was a newbie and was intrigued with the distance,” Haag said. “I had such a fantastic time that I’ve done it every year since except three times during the last 20 years.”

When she started, Haag said she didn’t know anyone who battled multiple sclerosis, or MS. She only participated in it to socialize with fellow riders and enjoy the physical accomplishment. But as she got older, she met more people whose lives were affected by the disease — including a boyfriend whose mother had passed away from MS.

“The disease can affect us at any age,” she said.

Haag has ridden with many local teams over the years including Mayo Clinic, St. Vincent’s and CSX, the group with which she’s riding for the 2012 event. She said the training and team participation is a way to get to know people who share an interest in the sport. And it’s a way to encourage people on. Haag said while the challenge sounds rigorous, riding for 150 miles is a lot easier than it sounds if you have an iron will.

“I can tell folks out there if they have the burning will to do it, it can be done even with minimal training — 99 percent of it is all in your mind,” Haag said. She recalled how she trained hard one year on a prescribed schedule — and then did not bike again the following year. Even without training, she was able to be a part of the next race. “It can be done if you’re young at heart and don’t mind being a little miserable.”

Neighborhood cycle shops like Open Road Bicycles, Zencog, Lake Shore Bicycles and others play a big part in the event. Many of the long training rides — Haag, for example, often rides 100 miles on Tuesdays and 100 miles on Thursdays — start and end at the shops. Since they are located in the neighborhood, it is not uncommon to see many of the Bike MS participants zipping down some of the major thoroughfares in San Marco, San Jose, Riverside, Avondale and Ortega.

But no one plays a bigger role in the event than the organizers at the North Florida Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. The local staff works year-round to pull off the event and organizes more than 300 area volunteers. It’s no wonder the Bike MS; PGA TOUR Cycle to the Shore is the organization’s largest fundraiser. Last year, in North Florida alone, the ride raised $1.3 million toward research for a cure and programs and services for people affected by MS.

The ride will be held Sep. 26 and 27. Cyclists leave from the St. Augustine Airport and finish on the boardwalk in Daytona Beach. What originally began as a small gathering of 200 riders has grown into a major biking adventure of more than 2,000 participants. Cyclist will leave from the St. Augustine Airport and finish on the boardwalk in Daytona Beach.

“Over the past 26 years, Bike MS: PGA TOUR Cycle to the Shore has locally raised an estimated $13 million toward a world free of MS,” said Corrina Steiger, North Florida Chapter President.

While the staff spends many hours organizing the event, local volunteers play a pivotal role. The organization mentioned several standout volunteers:

·       Some cyclists, such as Dan Baker, who is also on the executive committee of volunteers for Bike MS, have been involved in Bike MS since its inception. Baker volunteered for Bike MS the first two years of its existence and has been participating in the ride as a cyclist ever since.

·       Bob Doughty has been riding in Bike MS for 10 years and he is over 70 years old.

·       Bailey Bronner has been riding in Bike MS for a couple years and is only 15 years old.

·       Bruce Reid has completed Bike MS in more than 30 states and is on the North Florida Chapter Board. He is also the Team Captain of Big Bananas, a bike team of Top Bananas (meaning they have to raise at least a thousand dollars per year for Bike MS to be called a Top Banana and be on the Big Banana team). He is one of the North Florida Chapter’s top fundraisers.

The event has given physically active “frequent flyers” like Haag new perspective.

“The ability to be physical is so important in my life,” she said. “If I was robbed of it, would I be able to deal with it that strongly?”

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