Here’s a test for all of you loyal followers of my column. What did I write about around this time last year? If you think it has something to do with Thanksgiving, you’re getting there. Charitable event? Closer. Bikes and turkey and money for Multiple Sclerosis? Ding, ding, ding.
Last year I told you about Blanche Dean and Team MSFITS, a group that raises money throughout the year for people with MS. I told you how the team has existed for about 21 years now and how Blanche took it over about 15 years ago. I told you about how she was diagnosed with MS when she was 39. She has the relapsing-remitting kind, which means her symptoms come and go, and she is blessed to be able to live a mostly normal life. Now for what I didn’t tell you.
For instance, at last year’s Makin’ Room for Turkey bicycle ride, 193 riders pre-registered. For this year’s race, scheduled for Sunday, so far there are 245. Probably even more as of this writing. The average age of these cyclists skews older: 47. And the oldest rider is 93. The ride usually raises between $7,000 and $10,000 each year – probably a little bit more this year because of the higher than expected turnout. And this year and last, some of that money also goes to the Raleigh Rescue Mission.
“People are so needy this time of year, and we like to let them know that someone is thinking of them,” Blanche said.
It’s being held at a new venue: the Sheraton Imperial Center in RTP. There is more parking there and less traffic. And these kinds of events are more important now than ever, according to Blanche.
“Research in the past 10 years has really taken off,” she said. “And we now have, I would say, I believe it is eight disease-modifying drugs on the market.”
And three of those are oral medications, as opposed to injections, which is a relief to MS sufferers like Blanche.
“I am now able to take an oral medication and feeling great,” she said. “And looking forward to a day when I don’t have to take any because there is a cure.”
But for every MS sufferer, there is a family member or friend behind the scene and anxiously awaiting improvements in treatment. People like Larry Dean, Blanche’s husband. He was never much of a cyclist until he and Blanche got together 19 years ago. And like many in the public, when she told him she had MS, he didn’t know exactly what that meant.
“My knowledge was just about as good as everybody else’s at the time,” he said.
When she did tell him, she started by telling him that she was “defective.” That was a statement he certainly didn’t agree with.
“I’m thinking to myself, ‘Here’s this 5-foot, 11-inch woman, excellent condition, got a great job, and she’s telling me she’s defective,’ ” he said. He added later in our conversation that he also thought to himself, “All I know is I’m staring at a beautiful woman …”
Larry got involved in MS bicycle benefits early in their relationship. He and Blanche would ride a two-seater bicycle. She’d pedal, and he’d steer and work the brakes.
“It’s worked out pretty good for the past 17 years,” he said.
He estimates that between the two of them, they have raised almost half a million dollars during the years for the cause, with Blanche bringing in most of the money.
Makes sense: She was the top fundraiser for Bike MS last year. Bike MS is a fundraiser held by the National MS Society. She’s dropped a little in the rankings this year, but not much: third.
As for the Makin’ Room For Turkey Ride, it’s a fun event for a fun cause, and Blanche is optimistic.
“It looks like the weather is going to help us out by being sunny, so hopefully we’ll have another 100 walk-ons,” she said.
Larry and Blanche don’t necessarily look at themselves as the heroic sort. They’re just doing their part.
“We just do our best to inspire people to do the same thing,” Larry said.
And today’s the day. Race time. You can walk on. It’s not too late. The 50-mile race starts at 9:30 a.m. The 25-mile race starts at 10 a.m. Find out everything you need to know at msfits.org. So go ahead, make some room for turkey.
Alex Granados writes about people, places and traditions in North Raleigh and beyond. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.