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Cyclists make stop in Camellia City

Five participants in the MS 450 bike ridetraveling to Orange Beach from Birmingham in order to raise funds and awareness of Multiple Sclerosis made a stop in Greenville Wednesday. On Saturday and Sunday, they will compete in the final 150 miles of the ride in the Tour de Beach event. The group set out on their second day of biking Thursday morning. Pictured are, from left to right, Jan Bell, Rich Akers, Stacey Davis, Jeff Morez and Grace Ragland. (Advocate Staff/Beth Hyatt)

Five participants in the MS 450 bike ride traveling to Orange Beach from Birmingham in order to raise funds and awareness of Multiple Sclerosis made a stop in Greenville Wednesday. On Saturday and Sunday, they will compete in the final 150 miles of the ride in the Tour de Beach event. The group set out on their second day of biking Thursday morning. Pictured are, from left to right, Jan Bell, Rich Akers, Stacey Davis, Jeff Morez and Grace Ragland. (Advocate Staff/Beth Hyatt)

Cyclists on the Tour De Beach ride made a pit stop in the Camellia City on Wednesday.

This year marks the 29th annual Bike MS: Tour De Beach ride. Currently, there are 403 cyclists registered, which is the Alabama-Mississippi chapter’s largest ride to date.  The event is sponsored by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, which invests nearly $40 million to support 375 research projects around the world.

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a disabling disease that affects the central nervous system that interrupts the flow of information within the brain and between the brain and body. Symptoms can range from numbness and tingling to blindness and paralysis. MS has affected more than 400,000 people in the U.S. and 2.3 million worldwide. It has been called the “invisible disease” because many who live with MS do not show outward symptoms, which can sometimes make it difficult to relay to others the magnitude of the illness.

Laura Pemberton,
marketing and communications manager for the
Alabama-Mississippi Chapter of the National MS Society, became involved with Bike MS after joining as an employee in 2014.

“While riding 450 miles in five days is something only an elite group of athletes can do, our regular Bike MS events are a great challenge for cyclists of all levels. With different route options, these rides provide a way for anyone to make a difference in the fight against MS,” said Pemberton.

This MS 450 ride began in Birmingham and spanned 300 miles over the course of three days. The final 150 miles of the ride will take place in Orange Beach on Saturday and Sunday. The group of five riders along with their Support and Vehicle Assistance (SAG) arrived in Greenville Wednesday night. They were graciously welcomed into the city with free hotel accommodations at the Comfort Inn and were treated to dinner by Bush’s BBQ.

The MS 450 raises funds that allow the National MS Society to fund cutting-edge research to find a cure for this disease as well as provide local programs and services to the 6,900 living with MS in Alabama and Mississippi. These vital programs and services include things such as the National MS Society’s scholarship program, emergency financial assistance and various educational programs. Riders are asked to raise a minimum of $500 to participate. The route from Birmingham to the beach was a tradition in the Alabama-Mississippi chapter for many years. For the past decade, several riders requested that the challenge be brought back.

Grace Ragland from Huntsville was diagnosed with MS at the age of 13; she has never let that slow her down. Since her diagnosis, she has competed in expert class mountain biking events, as well as many MS bike rides.

“I don’t let it get in my way. I’m doing what I love to do,” said Ragland. “When I was diagnosed in 1980, the face of MS was nothing like it is now. There were absolutely no therapies for MS. I went several years with no therapy, and when my mom heard that she said, go live your life to the fullest. But because of these fundraisers, the face of MS has changed substantially.”

Many of the cyclists involved in this ride either live with MS or have someone close to them affected by it. Through events like this, they are able to help and support those loved-ones while also supporting others with MS.

“We see the same perseverance every day in those who live with MS. They often face symptoms such as vision impairments and mobility issues, but are dedicated to making a difference. I find this incredibly inspiring,” said Pemberton.