Islanders train for 150-mile multiple sclerosis bike ride

Suzanne Olson with her daughter, Laura (
Suzanne Olson with her daughter, Laura ('Lola') Pederson.
— image credit: Meredith Griffith photo.

They’re riding in hope of a cure. They're riding for the ones who sit and watch, unable to join in because of multiple sclerosis.

Five Orcas islanders will tackle the National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s two-day, 150-mile bike trek this September, joining a throng 2,000-strong to raise funds for multiple sclerosis (MS) research.

This year, promising new research offers them a new reason to hope.

“This year I have more motivation than ever to raise money for MS,” writes rider Suzanne Olson on her team Web site. “I have hope – for the first time in my adult life – that I may not have to live out my life with MS... It had simply never occurred to me that I might someday be cured – given a chance to live without the constant burden and embarrassment of MS symptoms and the fear of progression.”

Olson has had MS for over 20 years.

The disease affects roughly 400,000 people in the United States, with 200 people diagnosed daily. MS damages the central nervous system and can cause a wide array of symptoms, depending on the severity of the disease. Most diagnoses occur between the ages of 20 and 50.

To date there has been no cure, only tools to manage and slow progression. But recent research on “chronic cerebrospinal venous insufficiency” may lead to a cure, said Olson, and more funding could speed the process.

Olson said she was inspired to ride by her daughter, Laura (“Lola”) Pederson, who has fought her own battle through epilepsy with “openness, transparency and an incredibly positive outlook.”

The two got matching Pisces tattoos in solidarity the year Pederson was diagnosed with epilepsy. In March of 2009, with her own brain surgery scheduled in May, Pederson saw a flyer and urged her mom to join her in the September MS ride. Olson couldn’t say no.

“I came to this as a challenge,” said Olson. “With chronic illness, you start to think, ‘I can’t’ – but this showed me, I can. You can have that exquisite feeling of freedom. The ride is stunningly beautiful. There’s richness (in riding) up Mount Erie, across the Skagit flats, around Padilla Bay.. I think there’s some power in place, a sense of well-being.”

Pederson was forced to drop out early last year due to neck pain, but Olson said “she was there at the finish line cheering me on when I came in. She was also waving papers at me before I could get off my bike and fall on the lawn at Rider Village... She was determined that we would do it again, and that she would be able to do both days of the ride.”

The two signed up for the 2010 ride right there at the 2009 finish line. This year Pederson’s boyfriend Brandon Banducci will join them on the team.

Riders say taking part in the event tends to open dialogue about MS.

“It’s remarkable, once you start talking about it, you find out the people around you who are willing to talk about their MS,” said San Juan County prosecutor Randy Gaylord. He and his nephew Kevin O’Brien will ride in honor of Kevin’s wife Nancy, diagnosed in 2006.

“There are many people with MS who can’t participate in the ride, but who actually get a lot of satisfaction out of… providing support for the riders,” said Gaylord.

Olson said it’s crucial to keep it positive and be sensitive when talking with friends fighting MS.

“It’s helpful if you can meet the person where they are, and not make assumptions about them based on some idea of what chronic illness is,” she said.

About the ride and how to help

The team will ride on September 11 and 12 along courses ranging through Skagit, Whatcom and Island counties.

To donate online, visit Click on “Donate” from the left task bar. Click on “Find a Rider”, and type in the rider’s name you wish to support.

You can also send a check to P.O. Box 1722 Eastsound, WA 98245 made out to the National M.S. Society.

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