When the average person thinks about Multiple Sclerosis, the image of a cyclist doesn’t typically come to mind. However, for a number of this year’s Bike MS Tour de Farmsparticipants, the two go hand in hand.
Charity events like Bike MS take on a whole new meaning when those most directly affected by the disease can be a part of the weekend. For this two day bike ride, not only will MS survivors be involved, but they will be right in the middle of the action on their bikes. The popular cycling event in DeKalb takes place over Saturday and Sunday with teams of cyclists riding up to 200 miles, but the distance traveled only tells a small part of the story.
Todd Frauendorfer was diagnosed with MS in 2007, five years later he decided to join his friend and co-worker who was starting a team for Bike MS in his honor. Frauendorfer said he never considered himself a cyclist, outside of social rides with his wife, went at the challenge full bore and last year rode 150 miles through the weekend. However, it’s not the miles that bring back the Aurora resident every year. It’s the team camaraderie and putting a face to the disease for all of the supporters to see. This year he will be wearing a special jersey given out to participants with MS.
“It gives other riders a chance to put a face to the disease, a lot of people who do it tell me how inspiring it is to see the people riding with MS,” Frauendorfer said. “It gives me a chance to meet them and speak with them so they know who they are supporting. I jokingly say it gives us a chance to show that we aren’t contagious. It’s so motivating to see several thousand people come out and support my fight against MS.”
Frauendorfer’s fight with the disease is constant and he said he is dealing with a little soreness in his leg. This will not, however, slow him down. Bike MS is his main focus every year, he said, and his training is geared to be in peak shape for the event. One of the more accomplished cyclists wearing the MS jersey, Frauendorfer said his goal is to one day ride the entire 200 miles.
The miles completed are impressive, but the more important part of the weekend is the bond built between participants. Most riders join teams so they have people to ride with and a familiar face to train with. Frauendorfer’s team, Petal Pushers, has grown since 2012 to be the biggest in Illinois. One reason for the team’s size is Frauendorfer said they have found that they can raise far more money to fight the disease by recruiting more people than raising money themselves.
The concept of a team is especially important to Holly McGinn, who was diagnosed with MS but has been in remission for 11 years. McGinn decided to participate in the ride four years ago when she went to support her friend who was riding. It was right then and there that McGinn knew she could ride as well and has ever since.
“When I went to go watch her, I was driving up 88 and I just had this overwhelming sense of emotion to see all of these people coming together for the greater good for one cause. It was so emotional that I thought to myself •I can do this too,'” McGinn said.
Team Ho Ho Holly’s Hopes, a name using the nickname McGinn received from children of a close friend, is made up of 22 people this year. McGinn said this year she is shooting for 35 miles on the weekend. While more miles would be possible, McGinn set the cap at 35 miles so that her entire team could start and finish at the same time. The team size has steadily grown since her first ride and includes her family and close friends. However there is one team member that stands out to McGinn. A man she met through Bike MS who lost his wife to the disease last year.
“My one rider, this is a big ordeal for him. I saw him two weeks ago and he’s very emotional about it,” McGinn said. “He feels that this is something he needs to do.”
Emotion plays a huge role in the weekend and many riders, especially those going out for the first time, may feel the full spectrum. Crystal Noack, who will be riding in her fourth Tour de Farms, said the process of getting to where she is now wasn’t easy. When she was first diagnosed with MS in 2009 it took her roughly a year and a half before she got up the courage to even reach out to the MS Society to see if she could participate. After reassuring her that no cycling history was needed and her regular bike would hold up just fine, Noack signed up for her first ride. Now an ambassador for the event, Noack said she has fallen in love with it.
“The energy is so different, it’s like nothing else that I’ve ever experienced,” Noack said. “Once you’ve ridden or volunteered you’ll come back year after year, it’s not just a ride. It’s celebrating everyone who has ridden and every dollar you’ve raised. I wasn’t a cyclist, I still don’t know if I consider myself a cyclist, but you get out there and all the adrenaline just pumps through you.”
Noack’s efforts are paying off. In past years she has said that to hit her goals she sometimes needed to text friends and family while riding to convince them to donate. This year has been a bit different. Her team, Whose Idea Was This Anyway, set a goal of $5,000. Days before the start of the event they are just $30 from reaching the $7,000 mark. Noack has raised nearly $3,000 of it herself. The ride has served as a confidence booster to the Algonquin resident who stays as active as possible. The disease has lit a fire under her, Noack said, and now events and trips that had been pushed back come to the forefront.
The three cyclists all have come from different backgrounds and all are in different stages of the disease. Despite their differences, they all described the biggest struggle they’ve had with Tour de Farms, and it has nothing to do with climbing on a bike. Like Frauendorfer, McGinn and Noack will both be wearing the MS jersey as they ride.
“It was kind of strange for me to advertise that I have MS,” Noack said. “It’s hard to come out to people saying you have MS. But it just sort of changed me, people applaud and support you at every stage.”
Like the other two, McGinn struggled with putting her face to the disease. She said there is a fear about telling people she was diagnosed with MS because otherwise they would have no idea. McGinn was fearful she wouldn’t be a good example for living with the disease. After debating the question, the Oak Brook resident decided she would be a great face for others who suffer with MS.
“After I thought about it, I thought I’m a great face for MS. I’m active, I work full time, I have a family. I want people to understand that MS is not this horrible defining disease that it used to be. When I was diagnosed I cried for three days. If I had someone to talk to like myself all of my fears would have been alleviated.”
The stories are all different, and no experience is the same. But all three cyclists can agree on one thing, the first time participating in Bike MS Tour de Farms is never the last.