By Rebecca Croomes
For some people, cycling is a lifestyle, and for others it can mean showing support for someone who can’t ride at all.
Cyclists from across the country poured into Athens Saturday to take a ride to raise funds and attempt to raise awareness of multiple sclerosis.
The trail wound its way from the starting point at the Athens Wellness Park through Piney Chapel and made a stop at the Alabama welcome station near Interstate 65 before taking a scenic route through Elkmont. Riders then went over the Elk River and through Salem and Elk River Mills before finishing back at the Wellness Park.
Jennifer Ely of the Alabama-Mississippi Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society in Birmingham said this year’s ride was the largest since the event’s inception in 2011, with more than 240 riders and approximately $100,000 raised.
Ely said David Kyle, a national championship para-athlete, had been begging her organization to organize a ride in Limestone County. She said they decided to start in Mooresville but conditions weren’t favorable that year, so the move was made to Athens and north-central Limestone, where there was already an established bike trail.
“It’s really the perfect location for us to start and finish,” she said. “We love it here, and we’re definitely going to stay here.”
Jan Ball, a co-worker of Ely’s, was waiting at the finish line Saturday, welcoming riders with cheers and a medal. She said she has been inspired by the community’s acceptance and support of the charity ride.
“It’s just phenomenal,” Ball said. “We couldn’t have done it without great support from the community. Volunteers, businesses, the hospital – it’s been great.”
Ball has worked with Bike MS since the beginning and said she thinks it will continue to grow because of the hospitable nature of Limestone County.
“We could not be more pleased,” she said. “We hope it’s good for the community, because you’re bringing in 250 folks, and they’re buying gas and spending money and bringing their relatives, so we hope it’ll keep growing.”
Regina Stewart was one of those bringing family and friends to support her trek.
Stewart, a native of Braxton, Miss., rode through Bike MS alone until joining forces on the last miles with Jim Shivers and Bike MS board member Charlie Long, both of whom were sponsored by Alabama Power.
“I think it’s a great fundraiser,” said Stewart, who knows people suffering from MS. “And I love to ride bikes, so it’s a good way to support them.”
At the end of it all, Ball said she feels that the bike rides do more than simply raise money for researching MS, but make connections among those suffering from the illness and provide support and encouragement to them and their families.
“It’s those connections that help kill the MS,” she said.
Registration has already begun for the 2014 Bike MS ride, which is scheduled for June 7. More information on MS and support networks can be found at www.nationalMSsociety.org/alc.