One year ago, Bill Turner stood in front of a group of cyclists raising money for the Multiple Sclerosis Society. The cyclists had just finished the first day of an annual two-day ride called Bike The Bluegrass MS 150.
I was the honorary chairperson of the ride that year and sitting in the crowd half listening to Bill, half considering what I would say when it was my turn to get up and speak. Bill was talking about his wife''s two-decade struggle with MS and his devotion to find a cure. He detailed how he had tried to raise funds by riding his bicycle from Mexico to Louisville the spring before but didn''t have much luck getting a group of cyclists to join him. Realizing that he was far more likely to generate a greater sum of money if he had more riders Bill explained his new idea — and that''s when my husband leaned over and said, “I think I am going to do this.”
I wasn''t sure what “this” was — but my daughters and I would soon find out. Initially, Bill had pitched the idea of riding Seven States in Seven Days. A shorter course meant more people could join in taking off work, and Seven States in Seven Days had a catchy ring to it.
I didn''t think much more about Bill''s fund raising, and I considered the steely buzz of the rollers in the basement, a good sign that my husband, John, was staying in shape throughout the winter.
By February, I started hearing more about this ride, which had now grown to Eight States in Eight Days. Bill figured Illinois was close by so why not just tack that state on!
There were informational meetings on Tuesday nights, e-mails started going out from our home computer announcing the ride and how to donate. As the winter chill warmed into spring there were many weekends when my husband spent all day in the saddle. Finally, it became clear he was going to join Bill and his group, which had grown to 15.
The Eight States in Eight Day riders included one female and 15 men. The group ranged in age from 22 to 67, and included an airline pilot, several attorneys, a concert promoter, engineers, administrative assistants, a spinning teacher, a student and a retiree or two.
The support crew was well staffed, including a number of people with multiple sclerosis, along with Bill''s wife Lee Anne and her uncle, who came up from Houston . The only thing I could see missing — when I showed up with TV cameras the day they left from the MS headquarters off Blankenbaker Road — was a massage therapist. Personally, to get back up on the bike day after day when the rides were so long would have required professional massage or a vat of Tiger Balm. The other key piece of this fund raising ride was the way money was generated. There was very little “asking” — more of a “telling” about what was going on and why and how to follow along and, just in case you''d like to help out in the race to find a cure for MS — a simple way to pledge, right there on line.
But once you did pledge, that''s not the last you heard of it. As the riders left town, they had an assignment: each night they would log onto their laptop computers and provide those who had donated to their endeavor a running description of the day''s events. This constant interaction was genius. How often are we asked to donate to charitable events, races, and walks and never hear or see what happened next? Thanks to the nightly e-mail updates it was like you were right there with the tour. Only your legs, neck, and feet didn''t hurt.
The ride began May 12 at Breaks Interstate Park in Virginia and concluded May 20 in Union City , Tenn.
They riders peddled through mountainous terrain as well as flatland, and crossed the Ohio River five times. They dodged traffic and got chased by more than a few territory-guarding dogs. In fact “Dogs have been the biggest problem, ” said Turner, who organized this 712-mile jaunt that is primarily in Kentucky but touches seven other states.
The way he set up the ride was that at the end of each day, whether the ride was 75 or 130 miles, the riders were responsible for sitting down and blasting out e-mails from their own experience along the route. In our household we heard a lot about those dogs (someone kept track and it was well over 200 by the time the ride was done) the diversity of the topography and people, and of course the aches and pains. A tremendous amount of planning went into the Eight States in Eight Days Tour, including booking rooms at state parks in all eight states, and meeting with MS patients and their families at dinner in each stop over.
We watched for the constant log of digital photographs and during the closest stop to Louisville , we drove up to Madison , Ind. and Clifty Falls state park. We met a group of tired but determined riders who said “hello” but had to get back to the computer before bed and an early morning start.
So now we jump forward to the Bike the Bluegrass MS 150 this year. The Eight States in Eight Days team was all there in their matching blue and gold cycling jerseys. Though the donations had not all come in by the first weekend in June, the riders who made up the team were the top fundraisers for the MS bike tours this year. The hope is that money will keep coming in as others log onto the MS Web site or read details of the tour on Bill''s site at WWW.WHYIRIDE.COM . You can see pictures of all the riders there, along with the amount of money they have been able to raise and, of course, details for the Eight States in Eight Days tour scheduled for next year.
As Bill said in Danville the first night of our Bike the Bluegrass ride, “It''s a week you will never forget and can change your life.” I spoke with as many of the riders I could and those were definitely eight days that will stand out forever.