During a four month contract at the MS Society, I had the incredible opportunity to interview eight incredible participants in the RONA MS Bike Tour. These are their stories.
I arrived early at the office of Anna, the Manager at a Health Care Centre in Toronto. So I took a seat next to a stone garden with small evergreen trees. The lobby’s black stone ceiling was polished to a reflective sheen that reflects people as they passed under it. Before too long, she exited the elevator and shook my hand. In her white dress pants and light purple shirt, Anna comes across as professional without seeming cold. She briskly lead me to Avenue Café + Bistro across the street.
Anna answered each of my questions efficiently and pleasantly. Eventually we arrive on the subject that brought us together and she launches into her story.
“The first symptom didn’t really dawn on me as a symptom,” Anna recalls. “I had trouble signing my name. And I noticed it at work over a period of a month or two. I thought that was a very odd thing. I just couldn’t sign it.” Two years later, Anna was suffering from vertigo attacks to the point that she ended up being taken to the emergency room by ambulance. A couple months after that, while visiting Texas, she suddenly and inexplicably couldn’t feel her legs. She was scheduled for an immediate MRI and was swiftly diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
At first she recalls her sense of relief since she finally had a daignosis, but after some reflection she adds, “I probably say that a little lightly. Matter of fact, it was a hard time. At first, you hear that and you think: ‘Oh, okay. I don’t feel any different.’ But that year, about August, I remember having a real melt down. It’s when it really started to settle in what this might mean.”
It was around this time that she found the RONA MS Bike tour. Her husband, Doug Cooper, is an avid cyclists whose been biking for nearly forty years. He had applied to ride in the Rideau Lakes Tour, but wasn’t accepted, and in a search to find a replacement, Anna found this fundraising tour. The stars aligned and they’ve been riding ever since.
“Partly, it was something for him to do,” she explains, “but ultimately it was also for me to sort of prove that I could do it… to prove that I’m still okay. Crossing the finish line the first year was such an enormous sense of accomplishment. In fact, I was almost in tears because I thought: ‘I can do this.’”
She describes the ride itself as “really fun” with a “real sense of energy.” Even when it rained last year, she felt like it just enhanced her experience and the riders that rode beside her wanted to be there all the more.
In a sense, this also describes her team “The Skidmarks.” They are a dedicated group that rain or shine wants to be participating. When I inquire about the name, she tries to explain, only slightly embarrassed. Trying to recruit more members, she had a neighborhood BBQ, during which she allowed all attendees to vote on the team’s new name.
“I just learned a very valuable lesson that evening though,” explains Anna. “In retrospect, what I would have done is come up with probably two or three final names and I would have had the final pick. Some people love the name, some people don’t. But it’s the name and some people get a chuckle out of it.”
Anna has used the MS Society only a handful of times, and always just to get information. Her experience with the MS Society, however, has always been positive. She recalls calling one day and outlining her situations and all that she needed to know. “I was laying all my stuff out there. And the person on the phone said, ‘We can help you with that, but how are you doing?’”
This sort of warmth is evident in Anna as well. Always positive, and a team leader, she looks back at the past couple years with a realistic, but hopeful outlook: “MS caused us to do what we want to do. Life is too short. Maybe in 5 years, we won’t be able to do this. Why wait? We don’t sit back and wait anymore. And I think that’s a good thing.”