Editor's Note: Jim Dunlap, a Fort Collins man living with multiple sclerosis, rode in the four-day MS Global ride in Vail last weekend. Money raised at the event will help establish an MS Repository Collection site at the Rocky Mountain MS Center in Denver.
Multiple sclerosis is a confusing disease. I'm often asked what my symptoms with this bewildering disease are, and what will happen to me over time. I try to think of the shortest, clearest answer possible. There is only one way to describe how someone with multiple sclerosis (MS) suffers physically.
I usually pause for a moment to ask myself if I have a different response this time, and then I give the same answer as always. As a person who suffers from MS, it's the answer I've personally tried to accept " anything and everything that comes from the brain and travels through the spine can be affected.
The second part of the answer is that this disease attacks randomly with no warning, no reason, no standard length of time of the physical attack and no answer for how long or how badly I'll be affected.
So, the best way to describe MS is that it's complicated. MS complicates my life physically. It complicates my ability to plan for an uncertain future. It complicates my insurance and finances, my relationships " everything! The effects, however, are much deeper than just physical.
There's a forced randomness of daily living that goes beyond the basic physical destruction of a human body. If I have a hard time understanding my own disease, I can certainly empathize with the confusion surrounding the search for a cure, or the public's unawareness about the disease " I've been seen by some doctors who know less about MS than I do.
Sometimes MS is thought of as a subtle disease of pain, numbness, clumsiness, extreme fatigue and mental confusion " and nothing more. Sometimes that's all it is, but the physical, emotional, and other multitudes of problems associated with this disease can be overwhelming.
There is no "standard" course in the disease. For each person who suffers with MS, every day is different and the symptoms are different. It all depends on which nerves the body decides to mistakenly damage in the central nervous system.
In the beginning, I would have a small and almost unnoticeable symptom and then return to normal for months. Heck, when I was first diagnosed, I had no true understanding about my disease. I figured if my leg stopped working I could find a spot on one of the U.S. disabled sports teams. I was fond of telling people a year ago that I was comfortable being "abnormally normal." Now that's reversed, and I cherish the times when my health gives me a couple of days of peace.
There are many days I walk with a cane or I'm housebound. My bladder doesn't always cooperate with my schedule or with where I might be at the moment. My son sometimes jokes with me about being "Mr. Magoo," because I see double side by side, and up and down. There are some days I'm still able to ride or practice some form of exercise.
There's an ebb and flow of symptoms and their severity. It can be for hours, days or even months when things can be bad. It's different every day and even every hour.
And even though it's scary dealing with all this, the really frightening thing is feeling the constant non-repairable erosion of mental function, balance, strength and coordination.
I was recently given an updated diagnosis that includes damage to the transmission of electrical messages to the part of my nervous system that controls functions we all take for granted. My heart, lungs, digestive, and urinary tract systems are breaking down. I agreed to tell you some of the bad stuff to help provide some understanding of this disease.
There is hope to live a life of courage, laughter and serenity. Because of my MS, I have learned much about acceptance and living life one day at a time. I used to race bicycles and manage top-level cycling teams. Some of my athletes and teammates were world champions.
Even with that background, I had never been to Europe to realize my lifelong dream of riding some of the routes on the Grand Tours. With my diagnosis, I imagined that I never would or could fulfill this dream. Then my friend Tyler Hamilton announced that he would be launching the Tyler Hamilton Foundation, with its primary cause being to raise money and awareness to help MS sufferers and push toward a cure.
The crown jewel of the Tyler Hamilton Foundation is MS Global " riding events that raise money for MS at premier cycling locations around the world. The riders in this event pay a registration fee for their expenses, raise a substantial minimum donation towards MS causes and cover their own expenses to travel to the event.
Without even knowing the details, I pushed the send button on the confirmation of participation on their Web site. Less than eight months later, I found myself cresting a climb from the Tour de France with Tyler by my side. Not only did I realize a lifelong dream in that first year, It's been followed by more MS Global trips to places I thought I would only dream of visiting.
This year for MS Global, we come to my home state's crown jewel " Vail. This is fitting because Colorado has a high incidence rate of MS. Tyler Hamilton currently races professionally for "Rock Racing," the most popular cycling team in the United States. The team is known for its fresh and unique contribution to cycling. Tyler has a basketful of accomplishments, including the 2008 U.S.A. Pro Road Cycling Championship, an Olympic gold cycling finish, Grand Tour wins, but most valued are his tireless efforts over the years to make the lives of others better through the "Power of the Bike."
The foundation not only gives donations and provides awareness in the fight against MS, but it also helps me maintain my physical health and prepare to ride in various events.
Simply, it adds purpose to my decision to continue to live as full a life as I possibly can. This year with the increasing effects of MS, I'll ride much slower and may have to rest more on some days. I'll still participate with determination to show that even with life's challenges anyone can still live determinedly and embrace life!
The money raised by the Tyler Hamilton Foundation this year will proudly be presented to Accelerated Cure Project for Multiple Sclerosis for the creation of an MS Repository Collection site, at the Rocky Mountain MS Center in Denver. Accelerated Cure Project is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to curing MS by determining its causes. The center is building a large-scale, multidisciplinary Repository of blood samples and historical data from people with MS and other demyelinating diseases. These samples are made available to researchers investigating the causes of MS.
In exchange for access to the Repository, researchers return the data they generate from the samples so that results from disparate experiments can be combined.
Vail in September is a great reminder of the beauty of life. The foundation's MS Global event was in Vail Sept. 18- 21. You may have seen participants cycling and dressed in THF clothing, or the brightly colored Rock Racing team vehicles around Vail. The 13 riders in this event, including myself, raised $50,000 for the Tyler Hamilton Foundation.
Thank you Vail for hosting the world! See you on the road!
Jim Dunlap resides in Fort Collins, CO with his significant other, Laura Scheman-Heath and their children. He is a retired partner from The Group Realtors and also the world of bicycle racing. He currently spends his days managing his health, speaking worldwide, writing and acting as an ambassador for Trek Bicycles. Jim can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about the Accelerated Cure Project, the Tyler Hamilton Foundation, or to make a corporate or individual donation in the name of the Tyler Hamilton Foundation, call 781-487-0008, or visit www.acceleratedcure.org.
Want to see your byline on this page? Write about something you think is newsworthy and send it to Community Editor Lauren Glendenning at email@example.com, or call her at 748-2983 for details.