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.
Sandra describes herself in many ways. She describes herself in the context of her family and the world around her: she is the mother of a two year old, a wife, and a police officer. She describes her faith; she is a Christian woman, who believes that everything happens for a reason and even in the darkest of times a positive attitude can shine all the light one needs to overcome. She also describes herself in terms of the MS that she was diagnosed with nearly a year ago and, as a result, as a RONA MS Bike Tour participant in Niagara. But the word that Sandra uses to describe herself most often? Honest.
Throughout the hour-long interview that I conducted with Sandra in June 2011, she frequently would punctuate her point with “Honestly!” and during many pauses, as she gathered her thoughts, she would refer back to, “I’m being honest with you. I’m a very just-say-it-like-it-is kind of person.” Given the story she had to tell that evening, her honesty revealed more about Sandra: bravery and determination, for certain, but something else as well…
Sandra was born in 1968 on an army base in Germany. The need to serve and protect must run in the family because she entered the police force right. She considers her chosen career and then explains, “To be honest with you, it is the one job in the world that requires you to be your best; to do your best. Lead. Help. The standard is just set that you need to be that best person.”
Which is why it was particularly frustrating for the utterly optimistic Sandra, when she woke up and couldn’t see out of her right eye on May 1, 2010. The impairment lasted for nearly six weeks and she kept telling herself that it may just be something in her eye. However, even as she kept going to work and trying to live a normal life, she could sense it getting worse. Finally, she went to the eye doctor three days in a row. A cat scan revealed nothing wrong, but she was eventually sent to Dr. Paul O’Conner in Toronto. Within an hour of meeting her, reviewing her two MRIs, and hearing her symptoms, Dr. O’Conner confirmed she had mild, relapsing-remitting MS.
“I felt relieved,” recalled Sandra who had been waiting for a diagnosis for quite some time. “Mostly relieved, but a little bit scared. But I truly believe that with a positive attitude, you can be well. Is that easy every day? No, it’s not. But I’m learning as I go what I have to do. And I’m learning limits and my boundaries.”
Prior to her diagnosis, Sandra had already joined the RONA MS Bike Tour. Afraid that this was the coming diagnosis, she not only began fundraising personally, but launched into a quest to have the year’s biggest team. While she was beat, she did manage to recruit 10 riders in less than two months. This accomplishment is astonishing and reveals the sort of drive and determination that Sandra has.
“When I was given the diagnosis last August, I thought ‘Okay, let’s just get on with life. What do I need to do?” Sandra recalls. “This has happened to me for a reason, so I need to give something back. I need to do something about this. If I can’t turn this into something positive, then I feel like the MS has its thumb on me. It has to be me in the driver’s seat.”
Sandra has no regrets about participating: “Leading up to that day, I was documenting all of my symptoms. That day was a day I didn’t have anything. It was just so positive and so amazing. I couldn’t even tell you. I’ll probably start crying if I keep talking about it.”
Sandra continued to list all that was offered to her. There was the tent (“We had a tent the first year! I thought that was so cool.”) and the food (“I don’t want to sound like it’s all about the food, but it just didn’t stop!”).
Sandra wanted to do the tour itself as fast as possible. Her and her team had decided to do the 40 km ride instead of the 75 km option. Always trying to be her best, she decided that if her team was going to do the shortest ride, they should also do it in the shortest time. Her husband, Mark, and her mentor (“I called her the rabbit and we were all the greyhounds following her.”) were waiting for her as she crossed the finish line. However, one woman stayed back. Sandra encouraged her co-worker Donna Mancuso to go as fast as she could and leave her behind.
“She calls me ‘Kitten,’” recalls Sandra. “That’s my nickname at work… ‘Kitten.’” And with sudden amused shame she adds begrudgingly, “I know.” Returning to the story she recalls Donna’s answer, “No, Kitten. I’m staying with you the whole way.”
During that first year, Sandra raised money through Facebook and emails. She approached people she knew and personally raised over $3,000 in less than a month. The second year is a whole different story. Her first event took place was a “Flashback to the 80s for MS,” which raised about $1,200. Her second event was “Knock Out MS” and had the Waterloo Regional Police boxing against the Peel Regional Police.
Sandra’s generosity and passion has inspired those around her. One of her husband’s friends is riding with his 10-year-old son Jared this year. His daughter, Kara is making and selling bracelets at her school to raise money for the cause. Another officer had his squad grow moustaches to raise an addition $1,100 for Sandra.
So that’s Sandra in many words: mother, wife, officer, truth sayer, determined, living with MS… and inspiration.