When I started to work at the MS Society two months ago, it was just a job.
I’d applied to my fair share of non-profit organizations and I was desperate to start work as a writer or an event planner… I was coming to a point where I’d have accepted a position filing 10 year-old documents in a dusty sub-basement. So when I was offered a position coordinating the RONA MS Bike Tours in Southern Ontario, I literally leapt at the chance (I probably got around three feet of air). I boxed up the little I had in Halifax, Nova Scotia and within a week had moved to a new city into a new apartment with a fancy new position.
While I appreciated the opportunity, to me the event was just another in a line of events and the MS Society was just the organization that happened to be intrigued enough by my eclectic resume to give this Maritimer a shot. However, that’s all changed.
During a meeting concerning media relations, my supervisor mentioned that surveys had been sent to our top thirty fundraisers last year. Ten responded and their answers were compiled into brief profile pieces that were sent to local newspapers. Since I had spent the previous summer writing profile pieces for an online newsletter, I was given the responsibility to create these stories. I don’t believe you can get to know a person in a survey so I arranged interviews with a handful of past riders and went out on a journey to find out what brought each of them to the RONA MS Bike Tour. The nine interviews that followed helped define everything that the RONA MS Bike Tour represented to its riders and, as a result, everything the tour means to me.
Paulette and Laurent were the first interviewees. This couple in their late 60s have built their relationship on their mutual passion for adventure travel. They’ve mountain biked the jungles of Costa Rica, excavated an archaeological dig in Belize, and canoed down the Nahanni River in the wilderness of Northern Canada. The list of scenic trails they’ve cycled, treacherous rivers they’ve rafted, and mountains they’ve hiked could fill volumes. They started the 150km RONA MS Bike Tour – Acton to Waterloo on a whim and have continued to take this relative joy ride for the past 17 years. For them, the tour is just another local adventure that they can do together.
The second interview was with Sandra Tout. A year ago, this police detective and mother of a young daughter woke up blind in her right eye. Six months later, she was diagnosed with MS. With a passion for life and the need to take back control of hers, she launched into the RONA MS Bike Tour – Niagara and less than a month after her diagnosis had built a team of 10 riders, which rose over $5500. For her, this fundraiser was a way to get back into the driver’s seat. This year she’s planned two major events to help raise funds including Knock Out MS.
Shirley Brennan offered her story as well. Her tale was a bit different. Mark, a loving and devoted father and the light in Shirley’s life, was diagnosed with primary progressive MS two years ago. Always the protector and provider, he’s found his limitations particularly frustrating. Shirley rides and raises money as a gesture to her husband. As MS makes things more difficult and takes away time and ability, it will not take away how she feels about her one love.
Then there’s Alain Quintard, the last inline skater to participate in the RONA MS Bike Tour – Toronto, who rollerblades his way past the finish line each year. Ken Mayhew, a senior employee at the MS Society, who rides to set an example with his wife and children. Anna Cooper, who was diagnosed with MS three years ago, found the RONA MS Bike Tour was a way to give back while appealing to her cycle-enthusiast husband. And Alex Cooper, who started riding with his daughter, continues to ride in support of all the people he’s met along the way.
Each of these individuals rides for a unique reason. To each of them, the RONA MS Bike Tour symbolizes something different. To some it represents an adventure with an old partner in crime; to others it’s a challenge that one can take to bond with a daughter or a husband or an old pair of skates. Sometimes the ride means a little more. Sometimes it offers meaning and clarity in the turmoil that is a positive diagnosis; and sometimes it’s a gesture of love to the person who you promised to spend your life with in sickness or health that no diagnosis will break. The RONA MS Bike Tour means so much to so many people. And in knowing that, I now realize everyday why I’m coming to work.
The MS Society isn’t just another non-profit organization for another cause. It has meaning and that meaning is in the stories of the people it serves.
Join us. Ride in the RONA MS Bike Tour. Be part of our story.